BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The 2011 Legislature rejected nullification as a means of halting President Barack Obama's health insurance overhaul, but the 18th-century state's rights doctrine continued to echo through the halls of the Idaho Capitol on Tuesday among foes of establishing an insurance exchange.
About 200 people attended the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee's first hearing on Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's proposal to create a state-based, privately-run online marketplace for individuals and small businesses to buy insurance. Such exchanges are mandated by President Obama's 2009 law.
Otter's bill calls for creating a 16-member, governor-appointed board to oversee the marketplace, including consumer advocates, insurance officials, small business representatives and health care providers. Idaho's exchange itself would be run as a nonprofit organization outside government.
Even though Idaho would get a federally run exchange if it refuses to craft one of its own, opponents of the Affordable Care Act insisted at Tuesday's hearing that the state should simply refuse to do either, on grounds that it's the best way to tell Washington, D.C., to stop meddling in Idaho's affairs.
"I'm against any form of health insurance exchange," Eric Pederson, a Boise resident, told the panel. "We have God-given rights, and the better strategy is just to stand up and say 'No.' We need to stand up for our liberty, this is a gross violation of our liberty, and if we don't stand up, we'll lose it."
Two years ago, the Idaho House passed a bill to nullify Obama's overhaul, though the Senate rejected that measure as unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, David Hensley, Otter's chief of staff, said the governor doesn't like Obama's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act any more than he did when he pushed Idaho to sue the federal government over the law in 2010.
Even so, Hensley insists that a home-grown exchange will be less expensive for consumers than an exchange run by the federal government — and help ensure that regulation remains in Idaho, not thousands of miles away in the nation's capital.
"We don't want to leave those individuals and small business at the mercy of the federal government," Hensley said. "Even with the restrictions of Obamacare, we know we can do a better job at this than the federal government."
Hensley estimated that the $10 million annual cost of a state exchange would cost each of the roughly 177,000 Idaho residents expected to buy insurance through it about $58 annually. The cost of a federal exchange could be more than $150 annually, or three times the state rate, Hensley said.
Another day of Senate hearings on one of the 2013 session's marquee issues is slated for Thursday. But if Tuesday's hearing is any indication, foes will be out in force.
As has often been the case in the debate over Obama's overhaul, those who spoke in the Capitol's auditorium during the 1½ hour hearing invoked the language of revolutionary America to underscore their fear that an exchange is tantamount to tyranny.
"Since when has the federal government been able to force us to do anything, since King George himself?" said Domenic Gelsomino, a Boise State University student active with the group Federation of Idaho College Republicans. "Your constituents have wanted it to be brought down."
Others, however, said the prospect of an exchange, whether run by Idaho or the federal government, was a virtual certainty now that the federal health care overhaul had been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and because President Obama was re-elected in November.
Given that, Idaho should create its own, said Fernando Veloz, who heads up the Employer Health Coalition of Idaho, whose members include insurance companies that favor a state-designed exchange.
"Creation of the exchange is inevitable," Veloz said. "The state will come out better with a state exchange."