Guest column: Zollinger’s health care conflict of interest

The failure of the Idaho Health Care Plan was brought to you by the Idaho Freedom Foundation cartel, writes Kenneth Krell, M.D.

It’s 4:00 am, and this is personal.

I’m trying to come to grips with the defeat of the Idaho Health Care Plan, the imperfect, pragmatic Idaho solution to try to stop the deaths and suffering occurring every day in our state due to lack of health care coverage for the working poor and disabled. The plan, supported by the state governing leadership now lies dead after thousands of hours of work by so many well intentioned citizens and state government officials.

I’m trying now to work through the anger, the despair, the sadness with words, which doesn’t work, any more than the words I had written early last week in a column supporting the plan, outdated even before printed.

In my naivete I believed that more logic, more rationality, more appeal to our collective compassion might have an impact. Just as I had naively previously written in a five part series on the subject months ago, appealing to our logic and our neighborliness.

I now realize this defeat is not a defeat of logic or compassion or pragmatism. Like so many others, I had refused to recognize that Idaho is a Banana Republic, run by an extreme far right cartel of shadowy figures who control the every move of their puppet legislators—legislators who know they have no chance of re-election if they cross the controlling bosses.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, understood that reality when she asked House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, whether his plan was to return the bill to committee until after the candidate filing period for state legislative seats had closed, knowing if the vote came up now and legislators voted for the plan, the cartel would see they were defeated in November. House Speaker Scott Bedke ruled her question out of order.

Wood “gaveled” me years ago in a committee meeting—at the beginning of this fight—threatening me with contempt for pointing out the Legislature was responsible for over 1000 deaths (now thousands more) by failing to provide health care for our working poor.

In eastern Idaho the cartel consists of Bryan Zollinger, Doyle Beck , Bryan Smith and Mark Fuller.

Zollinger, now installed as a state representative, and Smith are affiliated with a company called Medical Recovery Services, which, Carrie Scheid notes in her blog is “a debt collection company whose specialty is handling unpaid medical bills from Eastern Idaho doctors and hospitals from, guess who…..people, often uninsured, who can’t afford to pay.”

Zollinger this session even introduced a competing bill to the House committee, in an effort to sabotage the Idaho Health Plan.

Zollinger’s bill was defeated, but it didn’t matter. He won on the floor of the House when the cartel managed to block a vote, as Scott had predicted. After the vote to return the Idaho Health Care Plan to committee—a death vote—Zollinger gloated with a tweet: “Victory for the people of Idaho.”

At a state level, much of the cartel is controlled by Wayne Hoffman, who runs the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the ultra-right wing organization that has the ability to defeat any of the Republican legislators they choose, owing to the structure of the Idaho primary system, where only party faithful can vote, and where only a small minority of Idaho voters have a voice in the selection of legislators.

Zollinger tweeted on the Idaho Freedom Caucus account after the vote: “Your Idaho Freedom Caucus played a huge part in getting a 100 million Health care bill that was not a good plan for Idahoans’s sent back to committee.”

Zollinger can now continue to make money off the uninsured working poor who can’t pay their medical bills, which he will collect, and add hefty attorney fees.

In researching this, I found my billing company has actually used Zollinger’s company in the past, an unwitting alliance I had no idea I was party to since, like most physicians, I hire a third party to do my billing. Obviously I’ve asked my billing company not to use his services in the future.

At any rate, the defeat of the Idaho Health Care Plan has nothing to do with our failure to appeal to logic and pragmatism and compassion and empathy. We didn’t fail to convince the Legislature that failure to act endangered our populace and would cost thousands more Idaho lives.

We failed to recognize that in this Banana Republic, where politics has nothing to do with our democracy, we didn’t have a chance.

Until the systematic kidnapping of government changes in Idaho we will never succeed. That is the depressing, hopeless truth.

Krell is an intensivist at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls. He has degrees in both journalism and medicine. He can be reached at