Debate begins on Otter’s health exchange, with rumor of defections from ‘Gang of 16′

The Idaho House began debate at 9:53 a.m. Wednesday on Gov. Butch Otter’s House Bill 248,  which would establish a state-run online health insurance marketplace under the federal Affordable Care Act. A similar bill passed the Senate 23-12, so the House action is pivotal.

Before the debate, I heard talk that two members of the “Gang of 16,” 16 freshman House Republicans whose endorsement of the bill was a major break for Otter, had abandoned the group and will vote against the bill. I was unable to speak with the two members named in the rumor, so I won’t name them here. But multiple sources say the group may well get smaller.

At a news conference announcing the group’s formation last month, all 16 said they were committed to voting for the state-based exchange on the condition that several amendments to the Senate version were made. Those provisions are included in HB 248.

HB 248′s floor sponsor, Health & Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, had predicted a 42-28 vote in favor of the bill, but that was before the talk of defections.

The debate is expected to take several hours. The Senate debate lasted 6 hours on Feb. 21.

An attempt to delay the bill and amend it failed in the second hour of debate.

At 10:45 a.m., Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, moved to refer the bill for amendment, saying he wanted to add to a law passed in 2012 that prohibits insurers in the state exchange from providing abortions. Barbieri raised an issue that took up considerable time in the Senate, saying drugs called “Plan B” and “Ella” are “abortifacients,” or drugs that induce abortions.

Wood, a physician, was joined by the other physician in the House, Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, in saying that the drugs are prescribed as contraceptives, not to induce abortions.

After a half-hour of debate on the motion to consider amendments, the House voted 38-32 against delay. Debate on the bill resumed about 11:20 a.m.

Shortly before noon, the House broke for lunch and it set to return at 1 p.m.

 

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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