Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Ed reforms need consensus, Otter says

Gov. Butch Otter told reporters this morning that education reform must be arrived at collaboratively and with consensus, saying the process that led to the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws, which he championed, was badly flawed. “It’s pretty hard to establish consensus if you’re only talking to yourself on a matter of public policy,” Otter said.

Otter: Address personal property tax without harm to local government

Gov. Butch Otter is here at the Statehouse to speak to the press this morning at the annual AP legislative preview – though it’s First Lady Lori Otter’s birthday. There’s an overflow crowd.

“I will tell you that the state of the state is in pretty good shape,” Otter said, particularly compared to other states. “I hear horror stories about them not being able to meet the mandates of a balanced budget, their unemployment rates,” Otter said.

He said he’ll propose a balanced budget on Monday that will be structurally sound, a goal he’s long had – to bring Idaho’s state budget into structural balance by 2014. He also said he’ll have a lot to say in his State of the State message about repeal of the personal property tax. “I will tell you that I think there is a growing consensus amongst folks that the personal property tax is one of the drags on our economy and that we need to do something about it, and the question is what and how fast,” Otter said. He said another part of the question is “how do we do what we would like to do … without doing … harm to the local units of government. So those will all be debated and re-debated.”

HHS gives Idaho ‘conditional approval’ to run state-based insurance exchange

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter was notified today that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has “conditionally approved” Idaho’s plan to operate a state-based health care exchange. “We got a phone call from HHS informing us of that decision,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary; the call came yesterday afternoon, and was followed by a letter today  from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to Otter. “It shows that despite an extremely difficult timeline, staff did a pretty good job of pulling all the various required components together,” Hanian said. “If we get approval from the Legislature, then we have HHS’s approval to go ahead and move forward with the plans we submitted. … It means that we’d eventually probably have their full approval for running it on our own, which is what the governor identified as the reason we’re doing this.”

Otter convened a working group that studied the issue for months, before overwhelmingly recommending that Idaho opt for a state-based exchange to enable residents to shop for health insurance plans and access government subsidies, rather than let the federal government run Idaho’s exchange. The exchanges are required under the national health care reform law, but Idaho had been exploring the idea well before the law passed.

Sibelius, in a news release today announcing conditional approval for state exchanges in Idaho, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont and Utah, said, “States across the country are working to implement the health care law and build a marketplace that works for their residents.” Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have now been conditionally approved to partially or fully run their own exchanges.

Otter announces school improvement stakeholder group, no 2013 legislation

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he'll form a broad stakeholders' group to examine the best ways to improve Idaho's schools in the wake of the failure of the voter-rejected "Students Come First" reform plan, and said he's not looking for legislation in 2013. "I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators," the governor said in a guest opinion distributed today to Idaho newspapers. "The goal is to move education in Idaho forward for our students, our educators, and the businesses, colleges and universities that receive the product of our K-12 system. I do not expect this to be entirely about producing a legislative product. If participants find that best practices can be shared and schools improved without statutory changes, so be it."

He added, "Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session." Otter said he's asked the State Board of Education to head up the effort; his op-ed piece includes supportive comments from the IEA, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene, and state Board President Ken Edmunds. Click below to read the governor's full article.

"Men and women of good will can sometimes disagree passionately about the specifics of public policy, especially when it involves our children," Otter writes. "But I’m confident we can broadly agree on the need for improving how we educate Idaho students, and I’m equally confident that the people of Idaho will rise to the occasion of this renewed opportunity for taking positive steps toward achieving our shared goals."

Otter on education

Gov. Otter signaled his intent to avoid a clash over quick action on education reform, recommending that a task force he is creating return with recommendations for action in 2014.


Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/12/27/2393930/idaho-gov-otter-asks-for-a-year.html#storylink=twt#storylink=cpy

Following the Nov. 6 defeat of the three Otter-backed Students Come First laws, both Otter and other GOP leaders had suggest they might seek to act as soon as the 2013 session. Otter said he'd seen polling that indicated Idahoans agreed with that approach.

But leaders of the repeal came out firmly against immediate action, saying that all stakeholders needed to be consulted before any new changes are proposed.

Otter adopted a similar approach in an article sent to Idaho newspapers Thursday, in which he outlined how he hopes members of the task force are selected and quoted the president of the Idaho teachers' union, among others. Idaho Statesman  Read more.

Is it just me, or is government the only entity that considers creating a task force taking action? Does this bode well for the future education in Idaho?

 


Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/12/27/2393930/idaho-gov-otter-asks-for-a-year.html#storylink=twt#storylink=cpy

 


Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/12/27/2393930/idaho-gov-otter-asks-for-a-year.html#storylink=twt#storylink=cpy

Of polls, private and public, and next steps on school reform…

Buoyed by the results of a private poll commissioned by Education Voters of Idaho, some backers of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws – including Gov. Butch Otter – are calling for reviving “parts and pieces” of the voter-rejected laws. But the leaders of the successful referendum campaign against the laws say they shouldn’t be the starting point for new school reform discussions. “We just had the ultimate poll,” said Mike Lanza, referring to the overwhelming rejection of the laws by voters on Nov. 6. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Otter names new budget chief, Jani Revier first woman to hold the post

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has named a new budget director:  Jani Revier, who served on his congressional staff and has worked as a special projects manager for Congressman Mike Simpson since 2007. Revier, the first woman to hold the position, will start as Otter's Division of Financial Management chief Jan. 2; the appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Revier, who also previously worked for the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation and Rural Revitalization and as a legislative assistant to then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, is the daughter of state Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson. “I’m extremely fortunate to have such an experienced, savvy and proven leader agree to assume the responsibilities of budget director,” Otter said in a statement. “I worked closely with Jani in Congress and I’ve known her and her family for many years. They are great people, and Jani is an excellent addition to my team.”

Click below for Otter's full announcement; Revier replaces Wayne Hammon, who resigned in September after five years in the position to head the Idaho Association of General Contractors. Although Revier is the first woman appointed as theIdaho  governor's budget chief, theIdaho Legislature's current budget chief also is a woman: Cathy Holland-Smith.

 

Otter opts for state-based exchange in Idaho

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter's announcement today that he's recommending a privately operated, state-based health insurance exchange in Idaho as the best option for Idaho to maintain control over how health care reform operates in the state. Said Otter, "I know the earnest and well-intentioned debate will continue," as lawmakers consider the exchange legislation he'll propose in January.

Otter’s decision applauded, decried…

The Idaho Health Exchange Alliance, a coalition of more than 400 insurers,  businesses, individuals and trade associations in Idaho, applauded Gov. Butch Otter's decision today to recommend that lawmakers approve a privately operated, state-based health insurance exchange. "We're very grateful that Gov. Otter has shown Idaho the way forward on this issue,” said Heidi Low, executive director of the group.  “A state-based exchange will help Idaho have more control over Idaho's health insurance costs and keep Idaho in the driver's seat on health insurance issues.” You can read the group's full statement here.

Meanwhile, Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, decried the governor's announcement, issuing this statement: "I have a great deal of respect for my friend, Gov. Otter. However, I strongly disagree with his decision. More than 20 states have indicated that they will not implement a state exchange. States are opposed because they understand that Obamacare depends entirely on states to implement it. States are opposed because they know that a state exchange affords almost no flexibility and makes states co-owners of the looming disaster in medicine: higher insurance premiums, more expensive medical care, reduced accessibility and worse patient outcomes. Gov. Otter's decision makes the national effort of resistance much more difficult and more likely the law will remain in place, at great cost to Idaho families, businesses and our nation's economic vitality. Idaho Freedom Foundation will do everything it can, along with other opponents of Obamacare, to make sure Idaho never implements this destructive law."
  

Lawmakers react: ‘The right thing,’ ‘Inclined to resist,’ ‘Interesting’ politics ahead…

Among lawmakers reacting to Gov. Butch Otter’s health care exchange announcement today is Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who spoke from Denver, where he’s attending an education meeting. “ I think the governor did the right thing in the face of certainly a lot of opposition,” said Goedde, who served on Otter’s working group. “I don’t think that we have any choice - we’re going to establish  a state-based exchange, or we are going to get the federal exchange by default.”

Goedde, a longtime insurance broker, said Idaho’s health insurance premiums are among the lowest in the nation, in part because Idaho has so few state mandates on what insurance plans must offer. If the state were lumped in with other states in a federal exchange, “There’s no question in my mind … it’s going to drive the cost of insurance up.”

Some Idaho  lawmakers have been outspoken in opposition to doing anything required by “Obamacare,” and ideological groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation have been lobbying hard against a state-based exchange, even as Idaho business groups and insurers  pushed for it.  Last year, the Idaho Legislature took no action on an insurance exchange, gambling that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the law. Instead, it upheld it.

“I’m just proud of our governor,” Goedde said. “He knows he’s going to be taking heat, but he did the right thing.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, has been among the most outspoken opponents of a state exchange. “My inclination is to resist,” he said after the governor’s announcement. “The bottom line is if the federal government is going to control it, they should run it. I’m just not inclined to believe that the Legislature should just rubber-stamp this, but there’s a lot of new people there and we’ll have to see how they go. I’m just not going to be able to go along. I don’t think it’s good for my state, I don’t think it’s good for my constituents, and I’m absolutely convinced that my constituents do not want it.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician and former health insurance excecutive, said, “Idaho’s a low-cost health insurance state. And if we’re pooled with the national average, you can expect that you’d be paying the national average.” He estimated that Idahoans pay $500 to $1,000 less in annual premiums than the nation as a whole, mainly because of few state manda and low utilization rates. Putting Idaho into a federal exchange would force Idahoans to pay national rates, he said.

“It’s the better decision,” Rusche said of Otter’s announcement.  He added, “The politics of this are going to be really interesting.”

Exchange would be privately operated and state-based, details in State of State…

Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation for a state-run health insurance exchange matches that of his working group that studied the issue for months – it’d be a privately operated, state-based exchange. Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, said the privately run feature was a “better option” because it can get up and running more quickly than a traditional state agency. But, he said, “Let’s be honest. There was very little in these options that he liked. … But I think given all the work that the working group did and the fact that this decision kind of preserves some options and preserves flexibility for Idahoans, I think that’s why he came down where he did on this.” He added, “It’s going to be a work in progress.”

Health insurance exchanges, under the national health care reform law, will provide an online marketplace where consumers can shop for the plans, rates and features they want, and also access government subsidies if they qualify for them. States have the option of setting up their own exchanges, partnering with the federal government, or doing nothing and allowing the federal government to operate their state exchanges.

Said Otter, “All the criticisms of the exchange mandate that I and many others have expressed remain valid and troubling. The law is governed by an evolving set of increasingly complex rules and requirements. It is onerous, unwieldy and fraught with unknowns. That makes it all the more important to remember that my decision today can be rescinded if the Legislature disagrees or withdrawn by me if circumstances warrant – a real possibility on such a constantly moving target. But with what we know today, this is our best option.”

Otter will propose legislation when lawmakers convene in January to set up the new exchange. “We will have details about it in the State of the State,” Hanian said, the message the governor delivers to a joint session of the Legislature on its opening day, Jan. 7.

Otter opts for state-run health insurance exchange

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he's notifying the federal government that Idaho will opt for a state-run health insurance exchange, subject to legislative approval. “This is not a battle of my choosing, but no one has fought harder against the mandates and overreaching federal authority of the Affordable Care Ac," the governor said in a statement. "No one has more consistently and clearly demanded that Idaho retain the authority and flexibility to chart our own path forward. There was a judicial process for challenging Obamacare, and the presidential election was at least in part a referendum on its enactment. But despite our best efforts, the law remains in place, and almost certainly will for the foreseeable future. There will be a health insurance exchange in Idaho. The only question is who will build it."

He added, "Our options have come down to this: Do nothing and be at the federal government’s mercy in how that exchange is designed and run, or take a seat at the table and play the cards we’ve been dealt. I cannot willingly surrender a role for Idaho in determining the impact on our own citizens and businesses." Click below for his full announcement, including a Q-and-A about the decision.

Idaho school funding back in spotlight

Last week, Gov. Butch Otter told a crowd of more than 400 people that Idaho is "probably not" meeting the state Constitution's requirements to provide for education. The implications of that are serious: The state currently is being sued over the issue. “I would say we're probably not, but we're doing the best job that we can, and we're going to continue to do the best job that we can,” the governor said.

Asking the question of the governor was his former longtime chief economist, Mike Ferguson, who now heads the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. Ferguson has sent out an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers, headed, "Election Over, Now It's Time To Focus On Resources," exploring the issue of school funding in the wake of the failure of the school reform propositions on the November ballot. "Two critically important issues need to be factored into this discussion: How much of our financial resources are we devoting to the education of our children, and how are we allocating those resources among those children?" Ferguson asks.

His conclusion to the first question is that the Idaho is spending less and less on public education, falling from 4.4 percent of personal income in 2000 to 3.5 percent this year - a 20 percent decline. He also raises questions about the distribution of Idaho's state school funds with regard to equity; click below to read his full article. You can read my Sunday column here at spokesman.com.

Gov. Otter: State ‘probably not’ meeting constitutional standard for education

When Gov. Butch Otter asked for questions at the end of his luncheon speech to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, the first one came from former longtime state chief economist Mike Ferguson. "Do you believe that the state of Idaho is maintaining a general, uniform and thorough system of public education?" That's the standard required by the Idaho Constitution. "And if so," Ferguson asked, "how do you square that with the dramatic increase in unequalized property taxes to fund public schools in Idaho?"

Otter first said, "I'm not prepared to answer that question, to be quite frank with you." He noted the "rural nature of the state," and how that's led to differing course offerings in remote school districts, vs. more urban ones. Otter also said he thought the Idaho Education Network was helping with that, by offering distance education to remote rural districts.

"I would say we're probably not, but we're doing the best job that we can, and we're going to continue to do the best job that we can," the governor said.

Otter: Health insurance exchange choice won’t please everyone

Gov. Butch Otter noted today that a decision on whether to start a state-run health insurance exchange or not will have to be made shortly. "There's some decisions that are going to have to be made between now and the 14th of December that are going to have a lot of impact on that session," he said of the upcoming legislative session. "There's going to be a lot of heavy lifting, because in many ways we're not the architects of these problems but … I believe … that we are up to the task."

He complained about continued changes in federal rules regarding the exchange. "Every time we're at a point where we think we're going to make a decision on it, then we get another set of rules and regulations that changes the dynamic of what we thought we were dealing with." He noted that some of his colleagues, other states' Republican governors, have decided to let the feds operate their exchanges because "they're still philosophically opposed to what is the law, and what is the law of the land. I want to remind you that we are a republic," Otter said. "Like it or not, we tried to change the law, we've done everything we possibly could, and now with the best interests of … Idahoans we now have to make that decision and that decision will come down. It's not going to please everybody, I'm sure. Those of us that have to make the decision probably won't be pleased about it."

Otter asks stakeholder group to look into why Props 1, 2 and 3 failed, what can be salvaged

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today that he's asked the State Board of Education to head up a 33-member stakeholder group to look at parts of the failed school reform referenda that should perhaps be salvaged. "I believe we're going to have in this legislative session a revisit of Props 1, 2, and 3 or parts and pieces thereof," Otter told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. "We lost. I'm not one that's going to go around and shoot the wounded. … The rejection was pretty obvious. But I do believe that we will see … parts and pieces of all those come back at us."

Otter said he's asking the group to look at "exactly why they failed where we think they should have passed, and where we failed in our construction efforts" in putting together the laws. "We will be providing that kind of information as well to the Legislature and to the leadership group, so it will be an ongoing process," Otter said, one that might not finish this year.

Otter declines to confer with empty chair, draws laugh…

An empty chair stood next to Gov. Butch Otter as he spoke today to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. "I apologize for this chair up here," Otter told the crowd. "The lieutenant governor asked me if I was going to pull a Clint Eastwood, and I said, 'I was there - I don't think so." His comment drew a laugh.

Otter challenges counties to identify local government services they’d eliminate

Gov. Butch Otter, in his luncheon address to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, challenged county commissioners to bring him a list of state-mandated services they provide that they'd like to do away with. "I'd be remiss if I didn't open the floor to the question of what are we going to do about personal property taxes," including proposals to eliminate them. "I've made no mystery of the fact that I've been a supporter of that," Otter said, "but I also understand how 44 counties … the question is always what are you going to do with that share of our budget which we get in our counties from personal property tax, and I said frankly I don't know." He said, "I want to engage in those discussions."

He said the budget will be challenging in the upcoming legislative session, and the latest tax revenue figures are forcing a downward revision in projections. "I will tell you we do not have a placeholder for $130 million in that budget," to offset elimination of the personal property tax. "We will have those discusssions, and I hope that we can come up with a plan. … I understand the plight of the counties, when it represents in some counties upwards of 35 percent of their budget."

Otter said two years ago, he asked for a list of "those things which you think you can do without in your county that we mandated, and I'll be your champion to get rid of those services, to stop those services and to relieve you from that financial burden, because I understand that. But I have yet to see the list."

Edit: Butch’s Legacy Is Awfully Thin

Idaho Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter has six years in office under his belt and two more to go. But what does he have to show for it? To say he has the thinnest legacy since Gov. (Big) Don Samuelson would be taking an unfair poke at Samuelson. Idaho's 25th governor, Samuelson served from 1967 to 1971. He generally rates near the least successful governors. He was a terrible public speaker. He suffered comparisons to his predecessor, Robert Smylie, and his successor, Cecil Andrus. And the voters denied him a second term. By contrast, Otter is an exceptional retail politician who has won three terms in Congress, two as governor and could have a third for the asking. But in terms of governing, Samuelson's record is not insignificant/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here. (AP file photo of Butch Otter at the end of 2012 Legislature)

Question: What has Butch Otter accomplished in his 6 years as governor?

Otter delays insurance exchange decision

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has decided to delay a decision on how to proceed on a health insurance exchange in Idaho, now that HHS chief Kathleen Sibelius has agreed to give governors more time; a decision had been due today, but now the deadline has been pushed back to December. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

“I have my working group’s recommendation, and I have been listening carefully to stakeholders and citizens about this important choice," Otter said. "This extension gives us more time to get answers from HHS about what the federal requirements will be.” Otter noted that he consulted with other GOP governors at a Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas this week from which he just returned today. “I don’t want us buying a pig in a poke," he said, "so with this extension I’m hoping we’ll get answers to the questions and concerns we’re hearing from legislators and the public.”

HHS gives states more time on health insurance exchanges, not clear if Otter will decide tomorrow or delay…

In response to a request from the Republican Governors Association, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sibelius has sent out a letter giving governors extra time to make their decisions on how to proceed on health insurance exchanges - a decision for which the deadline was looming tomorrow. Last week, Sibelius gave governors until December to file the "blueprint" that will flesh out the details of the decision, but didn't move the Nov. 16 deadline for a "letter of intent" declaring the state's decision. If states don't opt to set up their own, state-based exchanges or enter partnerships with the federal government, the feds will take over and operate the exchange for those states.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has been considering the decision, and convened a working group that studied the issue for months, then recommended overwhelmingly that the state go with a state-based exchange operated by a private non-profit. Otter is at the RGA meeting in Las Vegas today, where the issue was among the discussion topics, and his office just received Sibelius' letter late this afternoon. Otter's press secretary, Jon Hanian, said, "I think over the next 24 hours you should know whether or not we're going to make some decision tomorrow or take additional time." You can read Sibelius' letter here.

ICAN calls for Medicaid expansion, says it’ll save money and save lives

The Idaho Community Action Network, a statewide non-profit advocacy group with more than 2,000 members, issued a report today calling strongly for Idaho to expand its Medicaid program to cover the working poor. That also was the unanimous recommendation of a 14-member working group appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, which studied the issue for months.

"It's the right choice for Idaho - it's going to save us money, and it's going to save lives," said Terri Sterling, the group's organizing director. "When you think about the families this is impacting right now, it's very sad across the state. … I have interviewed lots of these families, and it's so heartbreaking and heart-wrenching to hear some of these stories."

ICAN's report, "Invest in a Healthy Idaho," calls a Medicaid expansion "a prescription for ending the drain on state and county resources and creating financial stability for Idaho's patients." It highlights the stories of several Idahoans who lack health insurance, including Aaron Howington, who works, but much of his income goes to child support payments; he lives in a camper in the back of his pickup truck, can't afford health insurance and makes too much to qualify for Medicaid. "Without good health, I may not be able to continue working," he said. "I don't know what I would do then. The Medicaid expansion would allow me to get the care that I need to stay healthy and keep my job."

States have the option of expanding Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health insurance to the poor and disabled, to cover the working poor under the national health care reform law, largely at federal expense; a decision from Otter and state lawmakers on which way to go is pending.  In Idaho, an expansion would save the state hundreds of millions over the coming years, because the state currently covers the catastrophic medical bills of indigent residents entirely with county property taxes and state general funds.

Kelly Anderson of Boise said she hopes the state chooses expansion. "Right now I have several bills that are in collection due to not having insurance and needing medical care," she said. "Once they expand the Medicaid and cover people that aren't covered, I think you'll see a whole lot less emergency room visits that don't get paid for because people can't afford them, and I think you'll see a healthier country." Said Alecia Clements, an ICAN state board member, "I have good insurance, thanks to God, but a lot of Idahoans don't." If Idaho doesn't expand the program, she said, "It's going to cost us anyway, even more - I hope that our legislators understand that."

ICAN was formed in 1999 through a merger of the Idaho Citizens Network, a citizens' advocacy group focusing on the concerns of low-income residents, and the Idaho Hunger Action Council.

Otter reaches out to ‘Students Come First’ opponents, sets meeting with IEA leaders

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is reaching out to the opponents of the failed "Students Come First" school reform laws, including the leaders of the Idaho Education Association; they've been invited to an initial meeting with the governor's staff tomorrow. "I can confirm there is going to be a meeting," said Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary. Otter won't be there himself, as he's attending a Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas today through Thursday at which governors are discussing their options on health care reform in the wake of last week's election, but Otter will be represented at tomorrow's meeting by his senior special assistant on education, Roger Brown.

"This isn't about a specific bill or piece of legislation - it's about a conversation and developing a road map on how we can continue improving our education system," Hanian said. "This will be the first formal meeting since the election. We started reaching out to them last week." Hanian said the governor plans to reach out to all stakeholders on school improvement, after the overwhelming voter rejection last week of Propositions 1, 2 and 3. "The people spoke," Hanian said, as far as those measures. "We need to continue discussion about improving our education system in the state."

Working group is unanimous: Expand Medicaid in Idaho

Corey Surber, chair of the governor's Medicaid expansion working group, said, "At this point I'm sensing consensus, but I'd like to do one more check." She asked working group members, if they didn't agree with Option 3 - expand Medicaid - with the identified caveats about benefit design, personal accountability and the like - to turn on their microphone lights. None did. That means it's unanimous - the group is backing Medicaid expansion for Idaho.

Still to be finalized is the group's formal report to Gov. Butch Otter, which will be word-smithed and completed over the next few days. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Working group: ‘An opportunity to shape a new health care system’

Here are some of the working group members' comments as they debate options for Medicaid expansion in Idaho:

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said, "This would be good for our people in Idaho. But we also …  don't know what the future's going to hold, and we don't know what the federal government is going to  do with its $16 trillion deficit and the fact that they're going to be putting bigger burdens on the states." She said, "I'm not quite there totally. I know it's good for Idaho, but I'm very concerned about what this burden is going to place upon our people."

Dr. Ted Epperly said he's "strongly in favor" of expanding Medicaid in Idaho. "Really what we have an opportunity to do here is shape a new health care system and a new insurance program. … I love a benefit redesign that really puts a lot of personal accountability and incentivization onto patients for their health." He added, "I think we need to focus on what we can control, and what we can control is what we do here in Idaho with this program. … It's a real opportunity for us."

Dan Chadwick of the Idaho Association of Counties said, "The CAT program, the county indigent program, has run its course. It's time for it to end in this state because it has not done its work. It's becoming financially and administratively unsustainable."

Tom Faulkner said Idaho's now paying 100 percent of the costs for health care for the working poor from its state general fund and from county property taxpayers. "If we could have 90 percent to 100 percent of that paid by the federal government, why wouldn't we do it?"

Beth Gray said, "The data that's been presented today seems to me to be overwhelmingly compelling."


  

Working group debates Medicaid expansion options…

Gov. Butch Otter's Medicaid expansion working group is now considering what recommendation to make to Otter. Member Mike Baker spoke out in favor of expansion. "There's financial benefits, there's the opportunity to do something right here," he said. "From the state perspective, you look at the numbers, you look at the things we've learned through these discussions, and I think it's great - a great opportunity for us to put together a different model." He said he hoped Idaho could develop an appropriate benefit plan that would fit the state and the targeted population, and provide the appropriate incentives.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he's concerned about "how to control costs and how to bring the best medical care at the cheapest cost to patients in that population. And that we do get away from the perverse incentives in the American health care industry that are going on today, we get away from fee for service medicine, we get away from the old traditional managed-care concept.  We actually have to get a system whereby the consumers and the providers … actually own the system, as opposed to feeding off the system. If we're going to go down that road, then I can wholeheartedly endorse the concept." But, he said, "If we're going to just have another entitlement program … then no, you don't have my support, nor do I think you'll have the Legislature's support." Said Wood, "We aren't just signing a blank check. That's not what we're about. We're about doing it right or we're not going to do it."

Consultant: Long-term analysis shows big savings if Idaho expands Medicaid

Gov. Butch Otter's Medicaid expansion working group is receiving a report from consulting group  Milliman this morning on the potential impacts to the state. "On a purely financial basis, it would make sense to expand," Justin Birrell of Milliman told the working group. "You save $6.5 million if you expand. It would cost you $284 million if you don't." That's over a 10-1/2 year period starting in the second half of state fiscal year 2014. Added the firm's Ben Diederich, "The state and local offsets are what's very unique to Idaho."

That's because of how Idaho currently funds health care for the indigent; through the state's medical indigency/Catastrophic Health Care program, the money comes entirely from the state general fund and from local property tax money. This afternoon, the working group is scheduled to decide on its recommendation to Otter on what the state should do; under the national health care reform law, states have the option of expanding their Medicaid programs largely at federal expense.

Otter: ‘We’re prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all the stakeholders’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke with reporters this afternoon about the election results, and he said the call from "Students Come First" opponents to begin new talks with all stakeholders about school reform is "exactly what I want to do."

"I think the interest that was shown on both sides, and what we heard on both sides, gives us a good opportunity to start developing, with everybody, a concurrent plan that we can go forward with," Otter said. "I think everybody does realize, whether they voted for or against the propositions, that our old education system is simply not working. We're not graduating students in many cases that are ready for college, not ready for the wonderful world of work or careers. … I talked to some of the leadership this morning and we're prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all of the stakeholders."

Otter said he'd be opposed to trying to just re-pass the same laws the voters have rejected. "That isn't a course that I think is positive, that isn't a course that I think would be productive," he said. "I do think what we need to do is take each prop, each idea of reform, and sit down and say, 'What did you like about it? What didn't you like about it? If you had a chance to change it, how would you change it?' And those things that we can agree on, and each and every one of those … is what we ought to go forward with."

Unlike Otter, Luna didn't talk to the press today. Asked about Luna's sentiments, Otter said, "I sense that he believes this is a new beginning on education reform, and that we're going to have to go forward."

The governor said, "There is something we ought to be celebrating today, and that is the big turnout that we had in Idaho. … But we also need to celebrate the independence of the Idaho voter. The Idaho voter isn't going to be led anyplace without some rational thought on their own, without some investigation on their own. I have been the benefactor of that, and in some cases I haven't benefited so much from it. But I still love the independence, and I celebrate their independence today."

He added, "I want to concentrate right now on the path forward. I want to vet that through the (legislative) leadership, say what can we accomplish, and how quick  can we accomplish that, and who do we have to have in the room to accomplish it."

Otter on school reform: ‘The public conversation isn’t over, it’s only begun’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement today on the voters' rejection of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, the "Students Come First" school reform measures:

“The people have spoken, so I’m not discouraged. That’s how our system works. But it’s important to remember that the public conversation that began almost two years ago isn’t over – it’s only begun. Our workforce, our communities and most of all our students still deserve better, and our resources are still limited. We offered these reforms not because we sought change for change’s sake, but because change is needed to afford our young people the opportunities they deserve now and for decades to come. That’s as true today as it was yesterday, so our work for a brighter and better future continues.”

Ad Watch: Latest school reform commercial echoes earlier one

The latest TV commercial in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 comes from "Yes for Idaho Education," and features a message strikingly similar to that in a September statewide ad from "Parents for Education Reform." The look is different, with video of teachers and kids in class, and there's different music, but the message is the same; it pulls out a feel-good item from each of the three complex measures and touts it as what the propositions will do. It does add in a jab at the "national teachers union" that was missing from the earlier ad. "It is essentially the same general positive message we’ve had in initial TV, in radio ads, and on our direct mail absentee chase," said Ken Burgess, spokesman for the "Yes" campaign.

Click below to compare the wording of the new "Yes" ad and the previous ad from PFER, which was the group that placed the ads funded by secret contributions to Education Voters of Idaho; you can read my fact-check story here from Sept. 28, which was headed, "Ad touting school reforms tells just part of story."

The  new "Yes" ad is running only in the Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls/Pocatello markets, Burgess said, adding, "We've left the Gov. Otter ad in place for our full run in Spokane."