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When the Dust Settles, 2013 Idaho Legislature Will Be Remembered for Bruising Fight for Health Insurance Exchange

"It was probably the most buising fight that any of us had ever seen at the Legislature."


Idaho Democrats conceded Thursday afternoon that the "most visible moment of cooperation" during the just-wrapped 2013 Idaho Legislature was "when 13 Idaho Democrats joined 29 Republicans (14 of them freshmen) to buck the status quo and support a state-run health insurance exchange."

The Idaho House took seven hours to air its grievances before voting in favor of Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's proposed state-run exchange. The Idaho Senate took another six hours in its debate before approving the measure.

"We would like to thank [Republicans] for their friendship and collegiality as we found new allies for reasonable, moderate solutions to our common challenges," read a statement from Democratic leadership.

"It was probably the most buising fight that any of us had ever seen at the Legislature," said Corey Surber, director of Community Health Initiatives for the Saint Alphonsus Health System. "It was very, very difficult."

Heidi Low spent the better part of the last three months at the Statehouse in her role as Executive Director of the Idaho Health Exchange Alliance, a pro-exchange coalition that grew to 526 members including the J.R. Simplot Company, the Idaho Medical Associations, Milk Producers of Idaho, St. Alphonsus, and IACCI, one of the largest lobbying organizations in Idaho.

"It was really a shared understanding of health care," Low told Boise Weekly. "Whether or not we agree with the Affordable Care Act, we know we wanted to retain control in Idaho as much as possible."

Whether it was cajoling a legislator or lobbyist, Low said it all came down to education.

"We spent a lot of time addressing a number of myths that were floated through the session," she said.

With her coalition work behind her, Low said she quickly returned to her full-time job: managing public affairs issues for Ritter Public Relations.

"I'm exhaling," she said.

But there isn't much time left to make the exchange a reality. Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter is expected to name a new operations panel to oversee its creation.

"I expect an organizational meeting very soon," said Shad Priest, Director of Government Affairs for Regence BlueShield of Idaho and former Deputy Director for the Idaho Department of Insurance. "If anyone is ambitious ... or foolhardy enough ... I encourage you to put your name in to the Governor's office."