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Health insurance exchange OK’d

Otter plan, which uses federal grant, goes to Legislature

BOISE – A joint committee of the Idaho Legislature voted 11-1 Friday to endorse Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed health insurance exchange legislation – a hot issue in the upcoming legislative session and one widely thought to face stiff opposition.

The Legislature’s Health Care Task Force, which has held months of hearings as the bill was drafted by the state Department of Insurance, received a final presentation on Friday. Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, then moved to endorse it and send it on to the Legislature, which convenes on Monday.

The Legislature’s committees “can determine whether it’s best for the state or not,” Broadsword said.

Otter is proposing to use a $20.3 million federal grant to set up a state exchange where Idahoans could shop for the best deals on health insurance plans. It’s required by the national health care reform law – which Idaho officially opposes, and is suing to overturn – but officials say the state exchange would serve Idahoans with or without the national law.

If Idaho doesn’t set up an exchange, the federal law calls for federal authorities to set one up; the state would have no input.

State Insurance Director Bill Deal said the legislation would set up a “state-operated, market-driven health insurance exchange.” Any qualified insurance carrier could sell its eligible plans on Idaho’s exchange.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a physician.

The sole “no” vote Friday came from House Health and Welfare Chairwoman Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls. “I am not opposed to the idea of setting up an exchange in our state, but I do have some concerns with this legislation the way it’s drafted,” McGeachin said. She said she plans to meet with Deal to go over her concerns.

Rusche said, “As always, the devil’s in the details and the plan of operations is really going to say whether this is successful and meets the needs of Idaho. But as far as the framework, I think it’s probably as good as we can get.”

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said as he cast his “yes” vote, “I’m going to vote to support this, but I would be open to looking at amendments that might improve it.”

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