Gov. Otter gives up the fight, before it even got started
Statesman Editorial board
January 29, 2012
The health exchange issue has put Gov. Butch Otter in the middle, flanked by two of his natural constituencies.
On one side are the business interests that have reliably supported Otter throughout his political career. They believe, adamantly, that a state-run health exchange is a must - because it provides small businesses with a marketplace where they can shop for affordable insurance.
On the other side are some of the most conservative members of the Legislature. They believe, adamantly, that an exchange is simply an extension of a federal government takeover of health care, especially since it would be bankrolled by $20.3 million from the federal health care law.
Otter seems to be taking the easiest possible way out.
Last week, he told reporters that the health exchange issue is all but moot because the state probably doesn't have enough time to put together the framework of a plan to meet a January 2013 federal deadline. Otter and his Department of Health and Welfare have asked the feds for a one-year extension, but the state hasn't received any word.
So let's translate. If you're a business owner or self-employed, and you were hoping state government would establish a system that would help you find insurance, don't expect Otter to go to bat for you. But you can't blame Otter, right? Blame that "top-down, one-size-fits-all federal government," which is what Otter did, in his time-honored way.
And thus continues, or concludes, Otter's incremental, gradual retreat away from his common-sense support of a health exchange.
Otter is backing away, even though his Department of Insurance has said Idaho jobs are at stake.
If the federal health care law of 2010 survives in the U.S. Supreme Court, the feds will create their own exchange - and some 2,500 Idaho insurance agents stand to lose their jobs.
Otter is backing away, even though his own health care task force recommended creating a health exchange - in 2007, when Barack Obama was a U.S. senator and "Obamacare" wasn't even part of the political lexicon.
And Otter is backing away, even though it makes more sense to proceed with a close-to-home, state-administered exchange, regardless of the outcome in Supreme Court.
It's hard to lead while backing away.
And once again, facing pushback from the conservative wing of the Legislature, Otter has blinked.
We've seen this on budget decisions throughout the recession, and on the gas tax and highway repair showdown that defined Otter's first term.
It is, to quote Yogi Berra, deja vu all over again.
During his Jan. 9 State of the State address, Otter made a lukewarm mention of health exchanges and the importance of discussing Idaho's options.
"In the next few weeks, we will continue to have those discussions - weighing all our options and the potential outcomes associated with each of them."
No, we aren't going to have those discussions.
Otter doesn't seem to see any point in it.
"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.
The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.
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