BOISE - The Idaho House has voted 52-18 in favor of the “Idaho Health Freedom Act,” Hayden Lake Rep. Jim Clark’s bill to ban enforcement of any requirements that Idahoans purchase health insurance and require the state to challenge any such requirements in court.
“The Idaho Health Freedom Act is not saying ‘no’ to health care reform. In fact … it’s the first step to saying yes,” because it sets the state up to do health care reform only on its own terms, Clark said. “It will help shield Idaho from a federal individual mandate.” He added, “We’re not alone in this battle - there are 36 states nationally” looking at some type of legislation along these lines.
The vote went along party lines, with all Republicans voting yes, and all Democrats voting no. The bill now moves to the state Senate.
The bill, HB 391, seeks to set Idaho up for a lawsuit against any federal health care reforms, and requires the state Attorney General to go to court to fight them.
Clark said he recognizes that federal law is the law of the land. “This is a legal battle that has been fought before and won before,” he said. “States may provide stronger protection of individual freedoms than the federal Constitution allows.”
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, Clark’s co-sponsor, called any federal requirement to purchase health insurance an “extreme deviation from our constitutional principles,” and said, “It doesn’t have anything to do with various other solutions that we do need to look at in resolving our health care crisis if you will, but it does address the concern of many that the federal government would come in and say you will buy insurance, and if you don’t you will be taxed, you will be penalized, you will be fined.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told the House, “This bill is premature - there is no national health reform bill, and based on the last several weeks I don’t know that there is going to be one.”
He and other opponents questioned spending money on litigation when Idaho is poised to cut schools, parks and more due to its budget crunch.
Rusche, a physician, said many places in Idaho law require purchase of health insurance, including child support and foster care laws. He cited growing health care costs, and said they’re the biggest barrier to free access to health care. “I don’t believe this bill addresses that at all,” he said.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, a candidate for Congress, said, “It would be a terrible mistake for the state of Idaho to wait until a bill is passed for us to do something about this in the state.” He said, “There’s nothing in this legislation that says that the majority of the individuals in this body are against health care reform. … What we don’t want is federal reform, we don’t want federal concepts intruding on the rights and liberties of individuals here in Idaho.”
The Idaho AARP notified lawmakers before the vote that it planned to publicize their votes on the bill to its members, and said it’s strongly against the bill.
Jim Wordelman, state director for AARP in Idaho, called the bill “irresponsible” and said, “A vote for this bill is a vote against the people of Idaho.”
During the debate in the House, Speaker Lawerence Denney had to interrupt Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, after she claimed anyone opposing the bill didn’t support the Constitution or uphold their oath of office.
Denney said afterward, “There’s a lot of stress, and tempers are getting shorter.”