BOISE -- A group of 16 Republican freshman in the Idaho House have joined forces to support a state-run health insurance exchange, provided the bill gives them more legislative oversight than another bill backed by Gov. Butch Otter that is making its way through the Senate.
Members of the group that go by the informal name "the gang of 16," come from all regions of the state.
They are: Reps. Luke Malek, of Coeur d'Alene; Neil Anderson of Blackfoot; Wendy Horman of Idaho Falls; Kelley Packer of McCammon; Cindy Agidius of Moscow; Rick Youngblood of Nampa; Ed Morse of Hayden; Brandon Hixon of Nampa; Lance Clow of Twin Falls; Robert Anderst of Nampa; Thomas Dayley of Boise; Clark Kauffman of Filer; Steve Miller of Fairfield; Julie Van Orden of Pingree; Paul Romrell of St. Anthony; and Doug Hancey of Rexburg.
The group says their version, introduced in a House committee Wednesday, includes more legislative oversight and gives Idahoans more protection.
"I stand alongside 15 of my fellow freshmen who have been listening to our constituents and are no longer content with reacting to the realities of health care," said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene.
"None of us liked the choices we were given, none of us felt the protections in the existing bill were adequate, so we formed this group and can say no state act will pass without our support," said Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden.
"I did not agree with the governor's bill that was drafted, I didn't like the lack of legislative oversight, and I thought that the citizens of Idaho deserved better for the insurance exchange itself," said Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell.
One by one, many of the lawmakers gave their reasons for banding together and drafting a new bill. They say a state-run exchange needs more oversight and more of Idaho's voice.
"By making the changes we did to this bill, we feel like it moved us closer to idealism," said Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot. "Idealism means we can go back home with clear conscious and integrity intact, and be proud of the service we provided to our citizens."
The group says they have a unique perspective since they have only been in office for six weeks.
They say while they can't stop the governor's bill from passing, they want to push the proposal they believe is right for Idaho.
"I'm confident that no matter what we will stand up for what we believe is right," said Malek.
There are several differences between the governor's bill and the one lawmakers proposed.
They include an increase the number of board members for the exchange from 16 to 18, that would add one House member and one Senate member.
The new bill also states that all board meetings would be held in a public, open forum.
This legislation requires that projects involved in setting up the exchange are bidded out fairly.
And, the new version mandates that any change in the fee schedule be reported to the appropriate committee.
Gov. Otter issued this prepared statement in reaction to the new bill:
“I am appreciative and excited about the efforts by this group of freshman Republican lawmakers who are attempting to make our health insurance exchange legislation stronger. We welcome their involvement and applaud their desire to protect the people of Idaho which is our number one priority. I believe this effort complements SB 1042 and will help alleviate concerns by increasing legislative oversight.”
The bill was introduced Wednesday in the House Health and Welfare Committee, and will come up for a hearing later.