Idaho Moves to Block Implementation of Obamacare

Published May 17, 2011

As the battle over Obamacare shifts to the courthouses and the statehouses, lawmakers in one state, Idaho, have implemented some measures to stop implementation of the federal health care law.

Last year Idaho became the second state to enact the Health Care Freedom Act, which signaled opposition to the federal mandate that all individuals must purchase health insurance, and joined in the multistate federal lawsuit against Obamacare. Idaho has also rejected any state role in establishing the high-risk insurance pools called for in the federal law.

In cooperation with Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter (R) and with help from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a free market think tank, conservative state legislators have been pursuing a variety of ways to keep from implementing Obama’s law.

Multiple Legislative Approaches

The most far-reaching bill introduced in the recent state session would have banned both state and federal officials from implementing the federal health care law in the state. This legislation, commonly referred to as a “nullification” bill, garnered national attention before being stopped in a Senate committee.

This setback did not stop the anti-Obamacare forces in the legislature. Another bill, H 298, sponsored by Sen. Monty Pearce (R-New Plymouth) and Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens), would have banned any state or local government agencies from implementing “discretionary provisions” of the federal health care law or accepting federal money to do so.

If an agency determined the federal law mandates the state implement certain sections, it would have to submit written verification to both the governor and the legislature, the legislation held. Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, assisted in drafting H 298, which passed the Idaho House by a 50-17 vote and the Senate by a vote of 24 to 11.

Executive Order Method Used

Ultimately, Gov. Otter vetoed H 298, saying he was concerned it would prevent the state from establishing a health insurance exchange in the future. At the same time he vetoed the legislation, however, he issued an executive order implementing its key features.

In an e-mail to supporters, Hoffman praised the executive order and said that because of it “Obamacare has come to a virtual standstill here in Idaho.”

“Our bill will send a strong message that Idaho will not be a patsy in the federal government’s effort to enact Obamacare while the lawsuit is pending. We’ll do everything we can to stop and delay implementation, and we will refuse to have our agencies accepting the federal grant money intended to buy the state’s support,” Hoffman said before the veto.

Although no legislation has been approved to establish an exchange in Idaho, the state Senate had approved accepting $2.5 million in federal money to begin the process of setting up an exchange. The state House of Representatives balked at this, and the bill to set up an exchange was withdrawn before it was even considered for a vote.

Marc Kilmer ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute.