By Representative Tom Loertscher, R-Bone
When I was a younger man, I once heard a speaker tell our group that the best way to kill time is to work it to death. I don’t want to give anyone the impression that we just kill time in the legislature, however, this last week we certainly did work a lot of it to death.
It may be ancient history for most now, but the floor debate on setting up an insurance exchange was a history making event on several fronts. I suppose the House felt the necessity of outdoing the Senate by debating the issue for an hour longer than they did. Last Wednesday was a very long day and the debate on the bill took exactly 7 hours. I guess I am as guilty as the next guy and did spend just a couple of minutes describing what I think the basic issues revolving around the exchange issue are. After all of the long faces during that whole process I thought I might try to put a smile on those faces with a lighter comment. I said, “If you laid all of the members of this body end to end that had drifted off to sleep during this debate, they sure would be a lot more comfortable.” My plan worked.
I still remain skeptical as to whether this is the right approach for us to take. Two of the overriding issues for me have been, (1) what is the benefit of having an insurance exchange and how would it help all concerned, health insurance companies, their customers, health care providers and the state, and (2) what will be the added cost of the exchange that will be borne by the taxpayers? In all of the discussions that I have had with regard to this issue, those two questions have yet to answered. After weighing all of the evidence on both sides of the issue, I voted no. I do think that expanding our health insurance markets would be a good thing. But I don’t think this plan provides that when there is no ability to shop for insurance across state lines.
Several weeks ago, I had two bills drafted that have turned out to be the talk of the town after they were introduced (printed). The first is the one that’s nearest and dearest to my heart, the repeal of the county medically indigent law along with the repeal of the Catastrophic Program. The other that has caused the most interest, at least in some circles, is the expansion of the Medicaid program in the State of Idaho. Both of these issues would of necessity need to be considered together, because if Idaho decides to expand Medicaid, the catastrophic fund and the county responsibility for the medically indigent would have to end. There is no way Idaho taxpayers could sustain both programs. The Department of Health and Welfare has compiled cost estimates in consultation with the Medicaid actuary they use for projecting the cost of programs. It looks like we would not save a great deal of money, but it would not increase our general fund expenditures either. The real benefit comes when you consider that property taxes statewide would be decreased by an estimated $478 million over the next decade if the counties are no longer in the business.
So, as a result, I will be spending quite a bit of my time this next week evaluating these two bills and their cost, and determining if the legislature desires to move forward. I was asked by one reporter why I had waited so long to introduce these two bills. The short answer is that I was asked to hold off until the exchange legislation was voted on in the House. My agenda for this next week will be extremely full and I intend on working a lot of hours to death.
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