By DAVID COLE
COEUR d’ALENE — If it’s up to state legislators from North Idaho, the federal health-care overhaul law commonly known as “Obamacare” will continue to be a hot topic next year.
“It is such a huge issue,” state Sen. Steve Vick said Wednesday at the annual Legislative Send-off luncheon at the Best Western Coeur d’Alene Inn. The event was hosted by the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce, and legislators shared their outlooks for the legislative session starting next month in Boise.
Ron Mendive, a newly elected Republican state House member from Coeur d’Alene, said Obamacare — also known as the Affordable Care Act — is a “job killer.”
“As far as industry goes, that’s a really serious issue,” Mendive said. “The federal government is trying to take over one-fifth of the U.S. economy, and that has ramifications far beyond anything we have even begun to discuss to this point.”
He’s hoping the state can come up with alternatives.
On Tuesday, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced the state is opting for a state-based health insurance exchange under the terms of Obamacare. The alternative was a federal exchange. The state Legislature still gets to be heard on the matter.
Ed Morse, a Hayden Republican who was elected in November to his first term in the state House, said Obamacare will be the most important issue for the Legislature.
“None of us like Obamacare,” he said.
But while the Idaho Republicans don’t like Obamacare, there isn’t a lot of agreement about where to go from there. While some like a state-based health insurance exchange, others believe a larger pool would spread the risk around better.
A health insurance exchange is an online marketplace where consumers can compare and purchase health insurance in one place.
“There are some other alternatives out there but we haven’t been able to get the governor’s office to really listen to those to this point,” said Bob Nonini, a state representative who was elected last month to the Senate.
Vick, a Dalton Gardens Republican, said, “I would prefer to go where Oklahoma has gone.”
That state’s attorney general is challenging penalties employers face if they don’t offer affordable health-care coverage to their workers.
“That’s the approach that I’m going to take,” he said. “I think that would be good for employers.”
He also cited a $63-per-head fee to help cover people with pre-existing conditions under the law, adding up to tens of millions of dollars for the largest employers and passed on to employees.
“So there are some challenges we have to face,” Vick said. “And we’ll probably have some different opinions on how to approach them.”
Obamacare’s requirement that individuals get health insurance was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Luke Malek, a Coeur d’Alene resident just elected to the state House, said, “In my opinion, Idaho had a role in Obamacare.”
That’s because, he said, Idaho didn’t come up with a quality health-care model at the state and local level.
“I don’t think it’s too late to do that,” said Malek, a Republican. “I think that’s something we need to be proactive about moving forward.”
He said the state must be creative within the framework of Obamacare, which is the law of the land.
“If there are legal challenges we can take, we’ll take those,” he said.
State Rep. Frank Henderson, of Post Falls, attended the luncheon, but he didn’t weigh in on Obamacare.
In the upcoming session, the Republican said he wants to work to lower Idaho’s corporate tax rate, which is the highest of the western states at 7.4 percent.
He would like to cut it in half, lowering the front-end costs for businesses looking to locate to Idaho.
“Then we’d be competitive with every other state,” said Henderson, who serves as chairman of the Business committee.
Idaho already has lower energy costs and worker compensation levels, he said.