There is a fine line as to how many times one person can get up and debate in one day. I was so far over that line on Thursday that I didn't bother looking back. I'm serving my last days in the Idaho House of Representatives. I have credibility I want to maintain there for next year, voters willing, when I'll be far across the hall in the Senate. But it didn't matter on Thursday.
Some of my Republican cohorts have said they will miss me. Brent Crane has said it kindly more than once. But he has a smile which I suspect means he knows I keep the place lively. Thursday was no exception.
I went into the floor session knowing that I'd be working along side Mike Moyle on defeating the CID tax. (A scheme under the guise of growth paying for itself where developers have no liability at all to pay for the cost of their development's impacts on cities and towns, but instead pass the whole liability on to home buyers in a large and easily hidden special CID property tax.) I debated twice and asked pointed questions of the sponsor on that issue. That's rare. It did little good. The floor fight was spectacular on both sides but the bill sailed to through, and is now headed for the Senate.
Phil Hart's horrible memorial to congress on immigration was up after that. I sat up in the balcony waiting there after his long, cruel speech, hearing no one get up to debate against the boilerplate John Birch Society rhetoric. And so I did get up again and when the house made its voice vote we had a fair number of nos. Not enough to make the speaker call for division, but enough that I wish more people across Idaho could have heard the vote itself.
Later there somewhere in the blur of that day was a little memorial to congress saying Idaho was doing a grand job regulating its insurance companies and that Idaho wants no part of plans to let the federal government create consistent policies to regulate health care. I have yet to determine if the federal law is good or bad. I also realize that memorials have no weight of law and are at best grand statements of legislative sentiment with lots of whereas and therefores. But when they pass they send those sentiments off to Congress, the president or the universe with my name attached to them and the people of Idaho supposedly standing behind them.
What got to me with this memorial was that this would be as close as we will probably get to having a floor debate on health care for the entire legislative session. People across the state are opening envelopes to paper printed with numbers, dollar figures beyond their comprehension. They are going bankrupt, setting aside plans of retirement, eating the heart out of savings accounts with prescription medication bills, cancer therapies, physical therapy, surgery, and psychiatric care. And very, very few of us, when those white envelopes come, are prepared or often in any way able to pay for what the bills say we must.
Even with insurance, or especially with it, I think we often are lulled into the false assumption that we will be OK. We have paid, and maybe too our employer has paid thousands of dollars over the course of the year, maybe even thousands more this year then last, just for the privilege of having insurance. But here is no security in it any more.
What is wrong is that our nation has allowed the insurance industry and our nation's health care to become so completely devastating to the finances of the vast majority of Americans. Here in Idaho even if you have health insurance, today you can still go bankrupt, end up with your home in hawk and yourself at the mercy of the temporary charity of the county indigent fund, subsidized by property tax dollars and general state tax funds. Small businesses struggling to find something to offer employees, typically can only afford bare bones coverage, a policy so full of lifetime maximums, deductibles and exclusions that the narrow strip of what it covers leaves families vulnerable and employees desperate when they realize what cost they are stuck with.
And what have we done about it this year? Well, a house committee refused to consider and actually allow us to debate the merits of Margaret Henbest's proposal to begin universal health coverage by starting with opening up the state's CHIP program to all low and moderate income uninsured children. They refused to dedicate the tax dollars and consider offering parents an affordable option to ensure all kids have insurance and preventative care to save the state and families millions across Idaho. Margaret has run numbers on expanding state programs like Medicaid to more and more adults as well, especially that band of people who (and the small businesses that employ them) can not at all afford coverage now.
Ask yourself and ask your neighbors, because I'm curious, would you rather trust a health insurance company, rather pay them premiums and let them decide your rates each year and what they will cover and not cover and how much of each procedure they will pay-- or would you rather pay those premiums in taxes and allow the state or federal government to expand their Medicaid or Medicare programs to let every middle class family buy in if they wanted. You might not get cosmetic surgery, but you'd have care you could predict. You'd have the security of knowing that your premium would not double the next year and that your only cost might be a co-pay for office visits based on your income.
National research is clear that access to early detection and prevention, eliminating administrative costs (insurance company's infinite red tape) and things like the need for costly county indigent funds and hospital charity care (which increases the cost of everyone's care,) would hugely reduce the cost of American health care.
But why do I bother mentioning these issues? We did not debate them on Thursday. No. I sat in my seat after Mark Snodgrass presented his insurance regulation memorial and no one spoke. Though it was futile, and I was so far over the line in debate for the day, I stood up and pressed the white button on my desk at the base of the microphone on its long, black neck. I leaned in to ask one relatively brief question about whether federal regulation had any chance of ending the random raising of rates and denial of coverage which is common practice under insurance companies in our country and state now. The answer was that the sponsor didn't think so. He did reiterate that Idaho does just great regulating insurance companies.
"Compared to what?" I wish I'd asked. "Couldn't we make them just a little more accountable to someone, especially since we have so few choices here in Idaho and since we don't really get to take our business somewhere else or just decide to do without if they do something we think is unconscionable, deceptive or dishonest?" But I'd been at that microphone far too many times that day.
Has anyone asked Idahoans about how pleased they are with what they pay insurance companies so very much for?
We sent a memorial to Congress telling our nation that we are regulating insurance companies just fine in Idaho. There was no critique, no room for improvement, even just under the category "Healthcare." Everything is peachy with health insurance here. We "heart" our insurance companies. They, in their gigantic shiny new buildings, with their outstanding board member and CEO salaries and bonuses, are doing just the best work for our families here in the great potato state. Let's give them a medal for creative problem solving, selflessness and clear dedication to those families they send white envelopes to year after year after year.