Republicans Block House Passage of Exchange Bill, Sending it to Budget Committee
February 13, 2012—The bill allowing Oregon’s health insurance exchange was expected to pass easily out of the House today, but House Republicans and one Democrat blocked its passage, instead referring it to the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Rep. Tim Freeman (R-Roseburg) made the motion to refer House Bill 4164 back to committee, saying that the Republican caucus discussed the bill earlier today, raising “specific questions” about the state’s financial commitments to the exchange, and how the federal government’s $48 million grant currently funding the exchange will work.
“It will be for a quick stop to better understand the financial commitments we are making,” Freeman said, noting that Republicans wanted “a few clear and concise answers,” and that the plan to create an insurance exchange is “sound.”
House Bill 4164 gives legislative approval of the Oregon health insurance exchange’s business plan, which provides financial projections and maps out how it will be ready to provide health insurance to individuals and small businesses (50 employees and under) starting in January 2014. It’s expected be a one-stop shopping place for as many as 700,000 uninsured individuals and small businesses to purchase affordable health insurance.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) said, in response, that there was no reason to send the bill to the budget-writing committee. He went onto say that the exchange is currently entirely funded by the federal government. Once it’s operational and providing health insurance to small businesses and individuals, the exchange will pay for itself through fees.
“Sending it to Ways and Means does nothing but to slow the bill,” Greenlick said. “There is absolutely no fiscal reason to do.”
It wasn’t long before it was clear that politics are at play. Rep. Mike Schaufler (D-Happy Valley) said he’d support the Republican’s motion to refer the exchange bill to Ways and Means, mentioning the importance of passing “substantial job creation bills” as part of his argument.
Schaufler is a sponsor of a Republican-backed bill that would increase timber harvesting on state forestlands, so long as the harvesting is considered sustainable. The bill’s first hearing is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon.
Before the vote, Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-Portland) urged his colleagues to not hold bills “hostage to trade them for other things.” After the 31-28 partisan vote, Schaufler told Smith later that Smith “was right.”
Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), a co-chair of the Ways and Means’ Committee, said that the finances of the exchange “had never come up as an issue [between the Ways and Means’ co-chairs] before today.”
Greenlick didn’t comment after the vote. But Buckley said that he’s confident House Bill 4146 will easily pass out of the Ways and Means Committee, allowing it to reach the House and Senate for a vote. “Everyone wants this bill to pass,” Buckley said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s been held up in these attempts to use bills hostage to get something else.”
He went onto say that the creation of an exchange “has been vetted to the nth degree” and that it would have been appropriate to bring up [questions] prior to today.”