BOISE – Idaho’s new state-based health insurance exchange board gathered for its first meeting Monday, and each of its 19 members had already received a somewhat surprising welcome – an anonymous call threatening a lawsuit.
“I got a call from a guy who did not want to identify what firm he worked for,” said Stephen Weeg, the board’s interim chairman. “He just wanted to give us all a notice that within three months’ time we would all be sued for being on this board – I think he called everybody on this board, just to let us know that we were already in trouble.”
Weeg said his first reaction was, “Wait a minute – we’re just doing what the law requires.”
Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, a board member, said, “I actually chuckled, because I thought, you know, we’re here trying to provide a service.” She said she was disappointed that opponents of the exchange would “stoop to these tactics,” and said, “I did call the speaker and let him know. He said, ‘Don’t worry – the state will have anybody on the board covered and indemnified.’”
The exchange is being set up after the Idaho Legislature approved it this year amid hours of tense debate, and Gov. Butch Otter signed the measure into law. It’s charged with setting up a voluntary online marketplace where Idahoans can shop for and compare health insurance plans and access new government subsidies; it’s an independent, quasi-governmental agency whose board members include two state lawmakers, doctors and other health care providers, insurance company and broker representatives, business owners, consumer advocates and more.
Opponents didn’t want the state to comply with the new federal health care reform law, but if Idaho didn’t set up its own exchange, the federal government promised to run one for the state, with less state input or control.
Weeg said the board will make sure it has good legal counsel and board member indemnification. “But it was somewhat of a surprise welcome to the board,” he said of the lawsuit threat. “It was quite a reminder for me of how much attention is being paid to what we do and how we do it.”
Board member Kevin Settles, owner of Bardenay restaurants, said his staff got the lawsuit threat call. “I thought it was hilarious,” he said. “Our call was from Florida. So I have not lost any sleep over it.”
David Hensley, Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, told the board, “We’re going to be counting on each and every one of you to make this successful. … One of the most critical things to the governor is the openness, accountability and transparency of this board. He believes that we are directly responsible to the people of Idaho.”
All the board’s meetings are required to comply with Idaho’s open meeting law, and Monday’s meeting was video streamed live online by Idaho Public Television.
The board met for much of the day Monday, and formed six committees to do everything from write bylaws to start examining information technology issues. On Tuesday morning, the board is scheduled to go into executive session for a 9 a.m. telephone interview with a candidate for executive director of the exchange recommended by the governor’s office.
“I know we have a significant challenge, but I think it’s doable,” Weeg said at the close of Monday’s meeting.
He said, “The little task that we have before us is between now and October, get a business started and make an exchange operational and make it work for the citizens of Idaho.”