Otter gets boost from near-unanimous Senate panel on health exchange

The Senate Commerce & Human Resources Committee voted 8-1 Thursday afternoon to send Gov. Butch Otter’s health insurance exchange bill to the full Senate with a recommendation that it pass.

The lone dissenter was Boise Democrat Branden Durst, who said he preferred a motion that made no recommendation. Durst’s objection to Senate Bill 1042 is the Legislature’s establishment of a quasi-government entity to run the online insurance exchange mandated by the Affordable Care Act. Durst said that model, akin to the current State Insurance Fund, doesn’t allow adequate legislative oversight.

A potentially good sign for Otter: the two true freshman in the Senate — GOP Sens. Fred Martin of Boise and Todd Lakey of Nampa — both backed the bill. (Neither Martin or Lakey have served in the Legislature; nine other Senate newcomers served in the House).

Prospects for passage of the bill are considered better in the Senate than in the House, which has 31 freshman lawmakers, only three with prior legislative experience.

Lakey explained his vote to a packed Capitol auditorium.

“I despise Obamacare, I hate the federal mandate,” Lakey said. “But I have to look at it as the reality of the way it stands now. The reality is we’ll be faced with a federal exchange if we don’t do this.”

The motion to back the bill was made by the Senate’s senior member, Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who owns an insurance agency. “Abandoning the field of battle does not make the federal government weaker,” said Cameron, another opponent of the Affordable Care Act.

States defaulting to a federally run exchange will accelerate the move to a single-payer health-care system, Cameron argued. A state exchange, he said, would be less expensive to run and offer lower-cost insurance plans.

Democrat Dan Schmidt of Moscow noted that his GOP colleagues were in a posture of acquiescence. “I’m going to say this is an opportunity,” said Schmidt, a physician. “We have problems with health care in this country. We have problems with health care in this state. We will not solve these problems if we do not discuss them and move forward.”

The other yes votes on the committee were GOP Sens. John Goedde of Coeur d’Alene, Jim Guthrie of McCammon, Jim Patrick of Twin Falls and committee Chairman John Tippets of Montpelier.

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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