By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Many Idaho farm groups have thrown their support behind the governor's proposal to create a state-based health insurance exchange but only reluctantly because they see no other choice.
Insurance exchanges are the backbone of President Barack Obama's 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Every state is required to have one in place by Jan. 1. States can run their own exchange or allow the federal government by default to operate it.
After seven hours of emotional debate, the Idaho House of Representatives voted 41-29 March 13 to back a bill that implements Gov. Butch Otter's plan to use $30 million in federal grant money to build an Idaho-run insurance exchange.
The Senate passed that bill earlier but the House version has some amendments so the legislation will now return to the Senate.
Leaders of farm organizations say that though their members don't necessarily support the federal health care act, given the choice, they would prefer Idaho be in charge.
Some, such as Milk Producers of Idaho and Idaho Grain Producers Association, have joined the Idaho Health Exchange Alliance, which includes more than 450 Idaho businesses and industry groups that favor a state-run exchange.
"(Dairymen) deal with a lot of federal programs that are administered by the state and we would rather deal with the state than the federal government on this issue," said Milk Producers of Idaho Executive Director Brent Olmstead.
"Nobody likes Obamacare, but it's the law and the Supreme Court upheld it, so we'll deal with it," he said.
The possible impact the health care act could have on farmers as employers led IGPA to join the IHEA so members could become as informed as possible on the issue, said IGPA Executive Director Travis Jones.
Growers opted to support a state-based exchange because they want as much local control as possible, he said.
"We are going to go with the best choice we have available to us," Jones said. "We take more of a pragmatic approach to the issue."
But the state's largest farm group, Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, is opposed to any insurance exchange tied to the health care act, whether ran by the state or federal government.
IFBF spokesman John Thompson said that during debate on the issue at the group's annual meeting in December, there was a strong feeling that states' rights should prevail on the issue and distrust of the act itself.
"There are so many unknowns about what an exchange would actually become or do," he said, adding that one delegate "called it a pot of porridge: you don't really know what's in there."
Debate on the bill lasted six hours in the Senate and seven in the House and produced in strong statements, both pro and con.
"I want my legacy to be that I refuse to surrender my decision-making to the federal government," said Rep. Clark Kauffman, a grain farmer and former IGPA president.