Ever since a Democratic-controlled Congress revamped America’s health insurance system in 2010, the notion of government-mandated coverage has vexed most Idaho Republicans.
Thursday’s 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the individual mandate brought cries of protest from conservatives who have railed against the federal law. In 2011, Rep. Vito Barbieri led state efforts to nullify the health care overhaul, with a bill that passed the Idaho House but failed in the Senate on constitutional concerns.
The justices’ conclusion that the mandate is legal will renew conservatives’ vigor to block the measure from taking effect in Idaho, if they can, said Barbieri. The Republican from Dalton Gardens called the decision “unbelievable” and insists the state must do what it can to protect its finances.
“Something is wrong,” Barbieri said. “The state cannot afford this mandate. It’s going to crush Medicaid, it’s going to crush our budget. I will do what I can, to talk to others, to see about at least making a stand that the Supreme Court is wrong, and the state has got to do what it must to protect its finances.”
In 2012, House legislators blocked efforts to create an insurance exchange — an online marketplace for individuals and small businesses to compare and buy insurance.
The exchange is mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but Republicans rejected tapping a $20 million federal grant to create the exchange and using exclusively state money to begin a slimmed-down version — over the objections of insurance companies such as Blue Cross of Idaho that concluded not acting would put Idaho at the mercy of a federally-run exchange.
Department of Insurance director Bill Deal has promoted the benefits of a state-designed exchange, irrespective of the health care law’s requirement that Idaho have one in place. Following the justices’ ruling, he said, it could take weeks for Idaho to figure out the best course.
“We’ve got to study, we’ve got to decide, then we’ve got to move forward,” Deal said.
Deal directed questions about the potential for a special session of the Legislature to craft an exchange to Gov. Butch Otter’s office. Otter would have to call lawmakers back to Boise.
On Thursday, Otter was on his annual horseback trail ride with the Idaho Cattle Association. Aides didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
Lawyer and state Sen. Les Bock, a Democrat from Northwest Boise, expects foes of the health insurance exchange to try to halt it, but he’s convinced they’ll fail. That’s because a federal exchange will cover Idaho, even if the state doesn’t put together its own version, as neighboring Oregon is doing now.
Sen. Dean Cameron said the Legislature’s failure to create a health insurance exchange could prove costly.
Cameron, R-Rupert, owns an insurance agency and is chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
“Unfortunately, if (Republicans) do not win the presidential election or are able to take over Congress ... it leaves Idaho completely behind the eight-ball,” Cameron told the Post-Register in Idaho Falls. “I don’t want to say we’re unprepared. We are somewhat prepared, but we are dramatically behind the curve.”