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Idaho House Moves State Closer to Health Care Disaster

Passage of Problem-Riddled Health Freedom Act Could See Idaho Lose $1.6 Billion from Feds & Thousands of Jobs

BOISE, Idaho, Feb. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the Idaho House approved legislation today laying the groundwork to oppose a non-existent federal health care law, the long-term effects of the move could be felt for years to come.  AARP is calling the Idaho Health Freedom Act (House Bill 391) a disastrous and problem-riddled piece of legislation that, if signed into law, could see Idaho lose nearly $1.6 billion in federal health care funding for the state and cost thousands of jobs.  

AARP has made the issue an "accountability vote" -- meaning it will record the roll call vote and inform its 180,000 Idaho members how their legislators voted.  Earlier today, AARP notified all members of the Idaho House of the "accountability vote" initiative, marking the first time the effort has been launched in the state.

"This legislation takes aim at opposing a law or issue that doesn't even exist -- that's simply irresponsible. It could deliver unknown consequences to Idaho's health care system and take years to undo," said Jim Wordelman, State Director for AARP in Idaho.  "If the Idaho Health Freedom Act becomes law, our state could lose money and jobs at a time when we can't afford to lose either."  

The legislation, cosponsored by Representatives Jim Clark, Lynn Luker and Raul Labrador, attempts to prohibit the federal government from requiring people to carry health insurance -- with the intent being to oppose any type of proposed federal health care legislation.  AARP stands in strong opposition to the Idaho bill, which could cost Idaho its federal match for Medicaid -- $1.26 billion -- and the Children's Health Insurance Program -- $36 million -- along with thousands of state health care jobs.

The Idaho measure is part of a national initiative to challenge health care reform underway in several states.  The cookie-cutter legislation, similar to bills being introduced in other states, contradicts existing Idaho policy requiring students at state colleges and universities to carry health insurance (without it they can't enroll).  While the bill has been amended so as not to negate the state policy, it allows Idaho to mandate coverage while attempting to forbid the federal government from doing the same thing.    

"A vote for this bill is a vote against the people of Idaho -- and AARP is urging the Senate to take a harder look at this bill than the House did," added Wordelman.  "This ill-conceived bill is little more than a national effort that fails to consider the impact on Idaho and our worsening health care crisis."

AARP says the legislation is a roadblock at a time when solutions are needed.  Nearly 90% of the state's 221,000 uninsured have jobs but can't afford health care; 27% of Idaho Medicare beneficiaries fell into the Part D prescription drug "doughnut hole" -- forcing some to skip needed medications; roughly 100,000 Idahoans spend upwards of 25% of their income on health care costs; and insurance premiums are expected to double in the next few years.  

With the health care debate continuing in Congress and in state legislatures, AARP is working to protect Medicare, and tackle soaring prescription drug costs and skyrocketing insurance premiums.

AARP's key concerns with the Idaho Health Freedom Act (HB 391):

Potential Litigation: The IHFA is subject to many interpretations, and could draw the state into costly litigation, further depleting state resources while not benefiting Idaho residents. As it is, in a tight budget year, the IHFA appropriates $100,000 to legal efforts to defend the action; the cost of litigation would likely be much higher.    

Loss of Federal Money and State Jobs: This act could jeopardize more than $1.5 billion in federal matching funds for programs such as Medicaid and SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program) -- funds Idaho depends on to provide critical health and long-term care services to hundreds of thousands of Idaho families, children and retirees.  The loss of federal funds could also result in the loss of jobs in our state's growing health care industry.

Contradicts Idaho Policy:  Idaho currently requires all full-time students at state colleges and universities to carry health insurance; if they don't, the penalty is they cannot enroll in school.  This is a state mandate for insurance coverage that carries a penalty: Exactly what the IHFA claims to oppose.  

Ties the Hands of Idaho Legislators on Health Care:  If Congress passes health reform, it could eventually become the law, regardless of this Act.  If passed, the IHFA may tie the hands of Idaho lawmakers from fully participating in all available state options and in determining what policies to put in place.  Idaho lawmakers need to have a full array of options to choose from to tackle state specific issues.

A Risky Gamble: IHFA raises too many unanswered questions and holds too many unintended consequences.  In Idaho's struggling economy, our businesses and families can't afford to take a gamble on an unproven and potentially dangerous idea.

AARP is Idaho's largest membership organization with over 180,000 members.

Follow us on Twitter @AARPIdaho and Facebook: AARP Idaho




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