As painfully slow as Gov. Butch Otter’s deliberations over health care exchanges might have seemed, his call to pursue an Idaho solution to the problem was the easy part of the process.
The more difficult challenge will be gaining approval from the Legislature, particularly from a sharply divided House Republican caucus that elected Rep. Scott Bedke of Oakley as House speaker over Rep. Lawerence Denney of Midvale. Bedke’s rise to the top position in the House, no doubt, made Otter’s decision easier. It takes the issue from the category of “don’t bother” to “doable.”
Bedke has a tough sell to make with his GOP colleagues, many of whom don’t like the idea of Democrats gaining a big political victory with the help of a Republican governor and a newly elected Republican House speaker. Rep. Mike Moyle, the House majority leader, is not making it easy on Bedke. He’s calling on Republicans to turn away from state involvement, as 19 Republican governors have (as of Friday).
We don’t fault Moyle for stating his convictions, even if it means creating more divisions within the GOP caucus. But he is wrong with his conclusions.
Otter’s responsibility is to Idaho, not the 19 states controlled by Republican governors. Some 400 business, individuals and trade groups have asked the governor not to leave health exchanges in the hands of the federal government. It would have been a shame for Otter to side with politicians from other states and turn his back on Idaho constituents.
We also place more weight on the views of Idaho Department of Insurance Director Bill Deal, who is paid to stay on top of the health-exchange issue. Deal, a former state representative from Canyon County, has done just that.
While some questions about health exchanges remain, Deal says most have been answered recently by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “It is helping us move forward,” Deal said.
The department is in daily contact with the federal agency and insurance groups, which is helping the state through the health-exchange web. Deal believes, and we agree, that Idaho will end up with an exchange program that is managed in Idaho and serviced in Idaho, with active involvement from the Department of Insurance.
Legislators cannot ask for more than that, regardless of their views about Obamacare.
Otter certainly is no fan of Obamacare, but he likes the idea of federal control even less. He’s coming down on the side of practicality, and legislators should take notice. “There will be a health insurance exchange in Idaho. The only question is who will build it,” Otter said. “I cannot willingly surrender a role for Idaho in determining the impact on our own citizens and businesses.”
The governor has correctly outlined the only real issue in front of the legislators in the wake of the presidential election. President Obama won, Mitt Romney lost and that means Obamacare and state health exchanges are not going away in the immediate future.[0x13] For Idaho legislators, it’s a waste of lung power to debate the merits of state health exchanges, or try to forecast what changes the Obama administration might make to the rules and regulations.
Otter leaves open the possibility of bailing out later if Idaho cannot live with expanded rules. That scenario is hard to imagine as long as Deal and his staff stay informed. “With what we know today,” the governor said Tuesday, “this is our best option.”
It’s Idaho’s way, or the federal government’s way. That’s the only real choice facing Idaho lawmakers.[0x13]
“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email email@example.com.
Now, our less-than-enthusiastic Legislature shouldn’t cut off its nose to spite its face