I don’t like sports metaphors, so here’s my one and only for 2012: It’s second down, we’ve got the ball and our governor has decided to punt.

Like many Idahoans, I’m disappointed and bewildered by Gov. Butch Otter’s decision to seek a state health insurance exchange.

Butch is a friend, and nothing I write or say will change the genuine affection for him. But having listened firsthand to the debate over the issue, studying the president’s health care law and the myriad rules that have been written to implement the statute, I see almost no upside for Idaho or for our country in his decision to help the installation and cementing of Obamacare.

To be sure, a state insurance exchange is not simply an online portal to help you shop for insurance, as purported by too many reports in the media. It is also the vehicle through which new entitlements are dispensed, individual health care and asset data are stored and penalties for noncompliance with government insurance mandates are assessed, the latter of which violates the Idaho Health Freedom Act. That’s the law Gov. Otter happily signed in 2010, winning him accolades and national recognition.

My friend Nina Owcharenko at the Heritage Foundation wrote last month, “If the election had turned out differently, it would have been easier to repeal Obamacare. But that does not mean that Obamacare is here to stay. To the contrary, the dismantling of Obamacare has just begun. The only difference is that this dismantling will now be a more protracted and messy process.”

I’ll add that it is a dismantling process made much more difficult by Otter’s decision.

More than half the states in the country have said no to the creation of their own state health insurance exchanges. Frustrated by a never-ending avalanche of new regulations, unanswered questions and conflicting answers, these governors and state legislators have told federal officials they’ll have to figure out how to make the law work on their own. Even Otter recognizes the law and its plethora of pages is nebulous and cumbrous.

“The law is governed by an evolving set of increasingly complex rules and requirements. It is onerous, unwieldy and fraught with unknowns,” Otter said in announcing his decision to accept the state exchange.

The state is being asked to implement a federal policy that is already responsible for higher insurance costs and most certainly will be responsible for higher health care costs, reduced access to medical providers and reduced quality of patient care in our state and nation. By accepting this policy, Idaho becomes a co-owner of the so-called Affordable Care Act and everything that goes along with it.

Meanwhile, congressional leaders say the health care law is on the table as part of the fiscal cliff discussions. And lawsuits continue to make their way back to the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the president’s health care law on a variety of grounds including religious freedom.

In an interesting challenge by the state of Oklahoma, the attorney general notes that Obamacare does not authorize the distribution of tax credits and subsidizes through federal exchanges, meaning states could hold the key to stopping a massive new entitlement program, as long as they refuse to create health insurance exchanges all their own.

Refusal is exactly what Idaho should be doing. We can keep fighting, or we can give up. We can try to break the back of this law before it breaks us, or we can figure out how to “make it work.”

Second down. We’ve got the ball. Ask your legislator whose play they’ll support: mine or the governor’s.

* Wayne Hoffman is the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Email him at wayne@idahofreedom.net.


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