Gov. Butch Otter, in a campaign message Thursday, bashed the federal government due to its passage of health care reforms, but then went on to announce efforts to get children enrolled in another taxpayer-funded health program, paid for in-part by increased cigarette and other tobacco taxes.
A staffer with the Otter campaign says there are stark differences in the two health programs.
Otter was the first governor in the nation to sign off on legislation requiring the state government to sue the feds if health care reforms passed Congress. That signing garnered much attention for the Republican governor, who appeared on national television to talk about passage of the legislation. Otter said, and continues to say, that the mandate forcing individuals to purchase health insurance or face a fine isn’t the way to bring down health care costs. “With this belief, I signed the Healthcare Freedom Act into law,” said Otter. “I believe the people of Idaho have a right to choose and should not be forced into a ‘do it or pay the price’ type of government, which is exactly what Obamacare is. That violates both individual rights and state’s rights.”
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden joined with 13 other states in filing the anti-health care reform lawsuit in March. The suit is awaiting trial in federal court in Florida.
Later in the press release, Otter says he is working hard to get children enrolled in the State Children Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a program funded through federal taxes on certain tobacco products. SCHIP, reauthorized in January 2009 with support from Idaho’s two congressmen, Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick and Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, provides health coverage to low-income children. The reauthorization expanded the program, as well as the taxing authority to pay for it. Cigarette taxes were increased by 62 cents per pack, bringing the total federal taxes to $1.01 per pack. The tax on chewing tobacco also increased by about 30 cents.
But the federal government doesn’t solely fund SCHIP. According to legislative records, the state pitched in about $9.5 million in fiscal year 2010 to pay for the health program. The federal government paid the larger portion, however, covering more than $35 million for 2010.
Ryan Panitz, spokesman for the Otter campaign, says that participation is the key difference between the two health programs. Panitz says, like Otter and others, that the insurance mandate of health reforms makes them unconstitutional, while the voluntary nature of SCHIP makes it acceptable. Under SCHIP’s provisions, says Panitz, states are not required, “but encouraged,” to enroll in the program. States, if enrolled, are also allowed to set their own eligibility requirements for the coverage.
This isn’t the first time Otter has sung praises of SCHIP. In 2007 U.S. House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer used a quote from Otter to encourage Republicans in the House to approve a reauthorization and expansion of the program. “SCHIP is an important safety net, and one way of investing in our young people that can pay real dividends in wellness and avoided costs down the road. SCHIP works,” said Otter, the quote originating in a press conference for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.