Printed on: February 18, 2013

State-based exchange could pass both houses

Idaho Statesman

Rep. Raul Labrador doesn't need to go through gatekeepers to speak to Idaho legislators, and freshmen lawmakers do not need "big brothers" in leadership to protect them from being influenced by members of Congress. If he wants to talk to lawmakers about insurance exchange programs - the issue that seems to have House Speaker Scott Bedke up in arms - that's the congressman's business.

So enough with the political games. If legislators judge the health exchange on its merits, rather than political rhetoric, there should be enough votes to pass both houses.

Lawmakers will hear plenty from both sides. Labrador and the Idaho Republican Party urge rejection of a state-run plan. "A state insurance exchange doesn't protect us from federal control, it invites further federal control," said GOP Chairman Barry Peterson in a news release on Feb. 7.

But three of the most powerful political figures in Idaho - Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill of Rexburg and Bedke - support a state-run plan, not a federal one. Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, who chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee, also favors a state-run plan. So does Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell. He recognizes, as the governor does, that Idaho is going to have an insurance exchange program no matter what. The only question is who runs it.

"Insisting on a federal exchange amounts to cutting off our noses out of spite," he wrote in a Reader's View in the Statesman on Feb. 7. "At the end of the day, we would have an exchange and the only difference would be that we would not have noses."

Support for a state-run exchange program goes beyond the Idaho Statehouse. Some 400 business, individuals and health professionals support a state-run exchange program. Sally Jeffcoat, president and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health System, made a good point in a December Reader's View.

"There are many examples to point to where the state of Idaho does a better job of providing for its citizens than the federal government," she wrote. "There is every reason to think this would also be the case with a health insurance exchange."

Jeffcoat correctly observed that many of those who are directly affected by the issue and have researched its complexities prefer a state exchange.

The person who would be overseeing a state exchange - Bill Deal, who heads the Department of Insurance - says it will work. He's in constant contact with the federal Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that a state program would work for Idaho.

So Idaho legislators can listen to Labrador, and other political statements, all they want. Before voting, they would do well to talk with Bill Deal and professionals such as Jeffcoat. Lawmakers would find that a state-run health exchange program stands as the best hope for providing affordable insurance to nearly 300,000 Idahoans who are without coverage.