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.