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Health care freedom in Idaho? Not with this bill

Simon Shifrin

Simon Shifrin

When it comes to health insurance, I don’t feel particularly free.

At my job, I basically have two options: buy insurance from Blue Cross Blue Shield, or don’t (with one additional choice to create a Health Savings Account).

So, I certainly didn’t feel free when my health insurance premiums jumped $90 in November, reducing my take home pay by about $1,000 this year.

(By contrast, I didn’t feel the same lack of freedom when my rent went up by $25 a month at the same time. I can always look for a new apartment.)

I imagine that the 220,000 people without health insurance in Idaho feel even less free than I do.

And state lawmakers certainly don’t feel free when those people use the emergency room for everyday medical issues or problems that might have been forestalled with proper preventative care. The state’s Catastrophic Health Care Fund, for example, has been hit with soaring costs that must be covered.

That’s what I don’t understand about the Idaho Health Freedom Act, which compels the state attorney general to fight federal health insurance reform in court if it includes a mandate for people to buy or obtain health insurance or else pay a penalty.

The bill declares that “every person within the state of Idaho is and shall be free to choose or decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty.”

Both chambers of the Legislature have approved the measure on mostly party line votes. (That was before they had to amend it, remembering that the state Legislature passed a law in 2002 mandating that college students have health insurance.)

I’m not going to argue here that Idaho lawmakers are wrong to oppose the current reform efforts at the federal level.

What’s clear, though, is that under the highly regulated, oligopolistic health insurance market we currently have, there is little in the way of freedom.

So are lawmakers truly serious about states being the laboratories for democracy? Do they want to safeguard the powers “reserved to the states” under the Tenth Amendment, as the Health Freedom Act says? Do they really want to give Idahoans freedom and ability to make their own decisions when it comes to health insurance?

Then, they’re going to have start moving away from the inflated rhetoric in bills like this that only seeks to kill other legislation and actually do something to ensure that freedom.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I haven’t heard about any serious effort at the state level to help cover the uninsured, lower premium costs or reform insurance industry abuses.

Can I assume that House Speaker Lawrence Denney, Senate Pro Tem Bob Geddes and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter are in the planning stages of their own health care summit – following the lead of President Barack Obama – to alter the health insurance system in Idaho and show other states that it can be done?

Are they going to follow the experiment in Massachusetts that lowered the rate of the uninsured to 2.6 percent?

Do they have something even more innovative in mind?

Until then, I will be waiting for the day when I can enjoy my greater sense of freedom in Idaho.

About Simon Shifrin


  1. Repeal the grossly, anti-competitive healthcare act (“Any willing provider”) passed surreptitiously in 1994.
    If Idaho doesn’t allow more healthcare providers that actually PAY THEIR HOSPITAL BILLS, conditions will only snowball downhill from here. The dim-witted Idaho Legislature created this problem; they neeed to fix it.

  2. You have the choice to accept the subsidy that your employer has offered for health insurance with the company that has won his business, or you can forgo his contribution buy your own from whomever YOU choose. The fact is that you have access to subsidised health insurance through your employer.

  3. Simon, two writers from Slate looked into Obama’s points on the ER costs and the uninsured using this as doctor’s office.

    The overutilization of emergency rooms is often cited as a dangerous symptom of America’s broken healthcare system. But a new Slate article from Zachary Meisel and Jesse Pines offers a rosier picture of emergency room usage, and dispels several pervasive myths. They write that E.R. care represents less than 3 percent of healthcare spending, only 12 percent of E.R. visits are non-urgent, and the majority of E.R. patients are insured U.S. citizens, not uninsured, illegal immigrants. Meisel and Pines also point out that E.R. visits don’t necessarily cost more than primary care visits: “In fact, the marginal cost of treating less acute patients in the ER is lower than paying off-hours primary care doctors, as ERs are already open 24/7 to handle life-threatening emergencies.” Ultimately, Meisel and Pines believe that emergency rooms are functioning as they’re supposed to, as “an always-available resource to alleviate pain, make sure your baby is not truly ill, and patch you up after a nasty fall is vital, even if it turns out that your condition wasn’t as serious as you feared.”

  4. In Idaho you have choices for health insurance and your company can obtain quotes from multiple insurance companies in addition to the “blue’s” with a single, electronic application through your broker. While your health insurance costs have risen, never a good thing, we can all be thankful we don’t have to pay the high health insurance premiums in MA or the taxes imposed upon them. As the article you linked to pointed out, “Massachusetts has always had one of the highest health care costs in the nation.” MA is still suffering through over-use with no financial motivation for people/patients and doctors/hospitals to NOT over-use.