Idaho lawmakers raised concerns June 21 about possible state law violations after receiving a request from Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to delay finding a new provider for state employee health care benefits.
Members of the State Employee Group Insurance and Benefits Committee tentatively agreed to follow the governor’s recommended timeline with the promise that the administration department and governor’s office work with the Legislature to find a new provider.
Earlier this year Otter signed into law a bill dictating that the state must find a new provider for state employee health insurance by July 1, 2019. At the time, Otter — whose term ends this year — didn’t publicly raise any concerns about the bill’s deadline.
But in a letter to an interim legislative panel on June 20, Otter asked for a new timeframe that would postpone offering plans under a new provider until 2020.
“Developing a new provider contract and a transition plan will be a complex undertaking,” David Hensley, Otter’s chief of staff, wrote in the letter.
He said it will take time to inform workers about new plans, allow them to make their choices, and for the state to enroll the nearly 47,000 individuals covered by insurance and benefits.
Lawmakers on the committee warned at a meeting June 21 that the governor’s directive may not comply with the new law.
The panel has been studying the issue for nearly two years and this year’s legislation stemmed largely from its recommendations.
“It’s law and that’s how we need to go,” said Republican Rep. Fred Wood, co-chair of the panel.
The law, known as HB 715 during this year’s legislative session, calls for “an array of employee health care benefit plans that begin on July 1, 2019.”
The governor’s office said delaying implementation of a new provider wouldn’t violate the law’s intent because the state would still solicit proposals and finalize a contract by June 2019. It said the state would then wait a year to develop a roll-out strategy that would make the new plans effective July 1, 2020.
At the June 21 meeting, some lawmakers expressed frustration at the lack of action that had been taken on the issue. They said an April 20 workgroup meeting had been planned but it was abruptly cancelled by the Department of Administration.
“My disappointment is that we didn’t even make that attempt,” said Republican Sen. Todd Lakey, fellow co-chair of the panel.
Department of Administration Director Bob Geddes said he had been put in a difficult position.
“On one hand I understand fully what the Legislature is asking and on the other, I can read the letter, I think the governor has taken the extra effort to see if we can’t come up with the best way to make this effort as productive as possible,” he said.
Lakey added that the Legislature will likely have to change HB 715 during the 2019 session to ensure the state doesn’t violate the law.