November 5, 2009 in Idaho

Too soon to opt out, lawmakers agree

Idaho task force discusses national health reforms
By The Spokesman-Review
Betsy Z. Russell photo

Susie Pouliot, CEO of the Idaho Medical Association, tells a legislative committee Wednesday that Idaho needs more doctors. The panel met in
(Full-size photo)

BOISE – Idaho would be foolish and premature to try either opting out of federal health care reforms or, following Arizona’s lead, changing its state constitution to try blocking any reforms, lawmakers from both parties concluded Wednesday.

“It’s premature – opt out of what?” said state Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston.

The Idaho Legislature’s health care task force, which includes senators and representatives from both parties, invited insurers, underwriters, representatives of doctors and hospitals, business groups, AARP and more to give presentations on whether Idaho should opt out of national reforms or change its constitution. None favored either move.

State Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chairman of the task force, said some Idaho legislators are working on a constitutional amendment. “I am told that there are legislators that are considering it,” he said. But “I think we heard pretty clearly that it’s, A, premature, and B, may not be the most effective way of us stating our opinion of whatever the health care reform may be.”

The various speakers told lawmakers that any state constitutional change likely would be overridden by federal law.

Scott Leavitt of the Idaho Association of Health Underwriters said opting out of a public option health insurance plan likely wouldn’t mean that a state could simply do nothing. Instead, states that opt out likely would have to show they’re offering something better. “You have a lot of work to do if you opt out,” he told lawmakers.

Alex LaBeau, head of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, told lawmakers that he doesn’t think much of federal health care reforms being debated in Congress, but his group isn’t recommending opting out. “We do need some reforms,” he said. “I don’t think Idaho can say that we’re taking our marbles and going home.”

David Irwin, communications director for the Idaho AARP, told the panel that opting out could diminish Idaho’s bargaining power for better health care prices. Lawmakers also asked a dozen presenters what reforms they thought could help Idaho, and there was an array of answers. Currently, Idaho’s health care premiums are low compared to most states, but House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician, said that’s partly because of a lack of providers that reduces access to health care for residents of some parts of the state.

Susie Pouliot, CEO of the Idaho Medical Association, said if everyone in Idaho had health care coverage tomorrow, the state wouldn’t have enough doctors to treat them. “We are woefully low,” she said. The IMA backs increased medical education and training and other measures to increase the number of doctors in the state.

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