Congress is still wrestling over how to reform health care, but this much seems clear: Idaho isn’t interested.
The Idaho Senate recently passed the Health Freedom Act, which would essentially exclude Idaho from federal health care legislation, requiring it to sue if Congress requires people to purchase health insurance.
The bill is now on Gov. Butch Otter’s desk and, according to news reports, he is almost guaranteed to sign it.
Senate sponsor Sen. Monty Pearce (R-New Plymouth) says Idaho joins about 30 states across the country that are pushing legislation that sends a clear message to the feds that it is overstepping its boundaries.
“I can’t believe the federal government would be making us all do something,” he says. “It’s never happened before in history. To force us to purchase something against our will is wrong.”
Pearce says health care belongs in the hands of individuals and that a federal health care plan would be neither cheap nor efficient. He believes Idaho stands to succeed if it ultimately goes to court to fight for health care freedom.
“I’m against government being where it doesn’t belong…” he says. “I think there’s room for states to push back.”
Rep. George Sayler (D-Coeur d’Alene) says Idaho can push back all it wants, but odds are the federal government won’t budge.
“Historically when states challenge federal law, they don’t do very well in court,” he says.
Sayler, who voted against the bill, says it doesn’t make sense to challenge a federal health law before they know exactly what it’s going to include.
“It’s part of the general anti-federal government movement that’s going around,” he says. “I don’t support that.”
David Irwin of AARP Idaho says the bill doesn’t tackle any of the issues that Idaho needs to address, including high prescription drug and insurance prices and rising levels of uninsured residents, and would instead act as a roadblock to progress.
In addition, Irwin says the legislation could cost Idaho $1.6 billion in federal health care funds and thousands of state health care jobs. The AARP Idaho has publicly opposed the bill.
“What it will do to Idaho’s health care system is not a pretty picture,” he says.
The Health Freedom Act sets aside $100,000 for Idaho to take the issue to court, but Sayler says it would likely cost the state even more from the constitutional defense fund — money that could be spent more wisely in tough economic times.
Pearce says the Goldwater Institute, an independent government watchdog group, is prepared to defend Idaho in court. “The Goldwater Institute would fight the battle for us,” he says. “It wouldn’t cost the state anything.”
Irwin points out that the institute isn’t mentioned in the bill and says there’s no guarantee it would defend Idaho. “Legislation specifies it’s the attorney general’s job to do so,” he says.
Sayler says the bill is a product of partisanship, demonstrated by the fact that House and Senate votes were almost completely divided down party lines. While Republicans are sending their message loud and clear, he says the alternative to health care reform, the status quo, is unacceptable for Idaho.
“We all agree that there needs to be health care reform,” he says. “It may not be perfect… but this isn’t contributing in a positive way.”