We made significant progress in Week Seven with the Senate's passage of legislation to establish a state-based Health Insurance Exchange in compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed into law in 2010 and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.
After over six hours of debate, SB1042 passed on a 23-12 vote. There is a lot of emotion over this issue driven by misinformation and a lack of understanding about the goals of the exchange. As such, it may be helpful to review the "statement of purpose" supporting passage of this bill: The purpose of this legislation is to establish a state-created, market-driven, health insurance exchange that will facilitate the selection and purchase of individual and small employer health benefit plans and is intended to enhance Idaho residents' choice regarding options and access to affordable health insurance.
Students of history can tell you that the concept of an insurance exchange is an idea Republicans warmly embraced in the past. Former Vice President Dick Chaney said the health exchange is "not a Republican idea or a Democratic idea, it's a universal idea." In that bi-partisan spirit, all 35 Senators did their homework, held a robust, difficult and lengthy debate and came to the consensus that establishing a state-based exchange was the best option for the citizens of Idaho.
Exchanges need to be functional by 2014 and, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, 23-25 million people will receive health care coverage through the exchanges by 2016. This is a dramatic number given that participation is 100% voluntary for both insurers and consumers.
As SB1042 moves over to the House of Representatives where the democratic process begins anew, we still have HB179 up for debate in both bodies. Sponsored by sixteen House freshmen, this is a "trailer" bill which trails along and impacts another piece of legislation. Where SB1042 would establish a self-funded, quasi-governmental agency overseen by an independent board, HB179 would grant the legislature some oversight of this board. The House Health & Welfare committee will hold a public hearing on HB179 on Monday.
On the education front, the controversial bills introduced by the Idaho School Boards Association continue to evolve. HB163, supported by the Idaho Education Association, unanimously passed the House this week showing how much can be accomplished when we work collaboratively. The remaining bills recreate the voter-rejected Proposition 1 of the Luna Laws and confront challenges as a result. There are now efforts underway to engage stakeholders which will hopefully lead to passable legislation.
I've just received a first draft of Governor Otter's proposal to repeal the personal property tax on business equipment. In addition to studying the details of this 24-page bill, my homework includes studying the report released this week by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy that concludes the repeal will "devastate" K-12 public schools. ICFP Director Mike Ferguson served as the Chief Economist in the Governor's budget office for 25 years and always adds insight into debates over budget priorities. As I've stated since January, I will not yield to any effort that would shift the burden to local governments, schools or homeowners in the pursuit of a business tax repeal.
As always, I urge you to contact me with any questions or concerns. Government works best when all citizens are fully engaged.