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Eye On Boise

Lawmakers back Otter, say apply for grant for Idaho insurance exchange

Lawmakers on the joint Health Care Task Force say they're supportive of Gov. Butch Otter's strong pitch to them this morning for Idaho to apply for a $40 million grant to set up its own state health insurance exchange; if Idaho doesn't create an exchange, the federal government will step in with its own. "We should not be wasting any time," said Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. "There's no risk," said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. "The risk is in not applying, and then turning the individual and small group market over to the federal government." Stegner added, "We're going to be extremely short-sighted if we let this opportunity pass."

Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, the House Health & Welfare Committee chairwoman, said, "We can go forward and establish our own exchange, and I think we should. It's my sense that we probably should consider applying for the grant." However, McGeachin said she's still not convinced that Idaho couldn't later decide not to spend the federal money, and fund an exchange with state funds; she said she wonders if it couldn't be done for less. "Our country's going broke," McGeachin said. "We just need to be sure no matter where the money's coming from, that we're spending it appropriately. Those questions for me need to be answered."

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, "I think I could support ... the use of the federal money to design an Idaho exchange. What I've not understood yet are what kinds of strings are attached to that decision. When we're having a tough time finding money to pay our part of Medicaid claims, I think $40 million is unrealistic in state money for development of the exchange. The key is if there are more strings we haven't heard about to the federal money."

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, "To me it's a no-brainer." He added, "It's unfortunate that the Legislature kind of painted itself into a corner by not only saying 'no,' but 'hell, no.' Now they're going to have to, I hope, look at what's best for the citizens of Idaho, not only for political posturing."

Idaho lawmakers this year passed legislation aimed at opting the state out of complying with portions of the national health care reform legislation, after first considering several measures aimed at attempting to "nullify" the federal law. Otter vetoed the bill, but imposed an executive order instead banning Idaho from accepting any federal money under the federal health care reform law unless he personally approves a waiver. So far, he said, he's approved 10 of the 13 waivers state agencies have requested, mostly for grant programs unrelated to health care reform whose funding now falls under the bill; he needs only issue another waiver to approve the grant application before the Sept. 30 deadline.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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