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Otter vetoes health measure

But executive order blocks implementation of reform

BOISE – Gov. Butch Otter has vetoed legislation that sought to block federal health reforms in Idaho but directed state agencies to take steps to avoid most of the White House provisions.

The measure, House Bill 298, said that Idaho wouldn’t comply with discretionary provisions of the law for one year and prohibited the state from accepting federal money to implement the federal law or from moving to set up a health care exchange.

However, Otter said Idaho can set up its own health care exchange regardless of the national law – and if it doesn’t, under the law, the federal government could step in and set up Idaho’s exchange as they see fit.

“If we default to the federal government to run the exchange, it can impose regulations and requirements that discourage or make it impossible for insurers to offer affordable health coverage to individuals and small employers in Idaho,” Otter wrote in his veto message. “If Idaho operates its own exchange, we can preserve the private marketplace for health insurance and look for ways to help it function more efficiently.”

Otter said he supported the idea of an exchange “before the concept was co-opted by the national government.”

Yet, the Idaho Legislature this year rejected a budget for the state Department of Insurance that included a $2.5 million federal grant to allow Idaho to start setting up its own exchange; instead, lawmakers ordered the department to use $500,000 of state money.

HB 298 is the only bill that Otter has vetoed from this year’s legislative session.

An earlier version of the nullification legislation that sought to declare the national law void passed the House despite two Idaho attorney general opinions warning that it violated both the U.S. and Idaho constitutions and lawmakers’ oath of office. After that bill died in a Senate committee, HB 298 passed.

“Even though I vetoed the bill today, I have issued an executive order … prohibiting state agencies and departments from implementing Obamacare, while allowing us to develop our own health care solutions,” Otter wrote in his veto message. “That avoids the unintended consequences of this legislation and strikes an appropriate balance between achieving the spirit of HB 298 – which I support – and my desire to not capitulate to the national government.”

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