As the debate over Idaho Gov. Butch Otter's proposed state health insurance exchange heats up, a North Idaho senator sent out a mass email and posted a message on Twitter comparing the role of insurance companies to "the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps."
State Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, said the federal government is exploiting private insurers and in the future will "pull the trigger" on them.
Nuxoll defends her analogy. "I just want people to hear the truth and to be aware that what is being presented before us is a socialistic program," she said Wednesday. "There is no disrespect for any group or people with the analogy."
Nuxoll sent the email out Jan. 23 to more than 120 email addresses and tweeted a link to it on her @SherylNuxollID account.
That message said, "The insurance companies are creating their own tombs. Much like the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps, private insurers are used by the feds to put the system in place because the federal government has no way to set up the exchange. Several years from now, the federal government will want nothing to do with private insurance companies. The feds will have a national system of health insurance and they will pull the trigger on the insurance companies."
Fellow Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he doesn't fault her. "This is a very emotional issue for a lot of people," said Hill, the Senate president pro-tem. "There's a lot of 'stuff' going around, a lot of information, a lot of viewpoints being expressed. As we get closer to making that decision, the rhetoric's going to get more dramatic."
He added, "I don't think this is exclusive to Sen. Nuxoll."
The governor's exchange legislation was introduced in a Senate committee on Tuesday.
Nuxoll said she made the analogy because "I felt badly for the Jews -- it wasn't just Jews, but Jews, and Christians, and Catholics, and priests. My thing was they didn't know what was going on. The insurance companies are not realizing what's going to end up is their demise."
Idaho's health insurance industry has strongly supported Otter's move to have a state-based health insurance exchange rather than defer to a federally run exchange.
"I am shocked by that message," said Marnie Packard, manager of Idaho government relations for PacificSource Health Plans, one of five major Idaho health insurers that are participating in a coalition pushing for a state-based exchange. "I think that some of the terms that she used can be very offensive to a lot of people."
Packard said a state-based exchange will result in lower costs and retaining jobs and businesses in Idaho.
Opponents have been calling on Otter to refuse to cooperate with the national health care reform law in any way, including by setting up a state-run exchange.
Otter convened a working group that studied the issue for months, before overwhelmingly recommending a state-based exchange. The governor's newly introduced bill calls for the exchange to be a quasi-governmental entity, not a state agency; it would have to be self-supporting and couldn't receive any state tax funds.
Under the national health care reform law, exchanges in each state -- whether state- or federally run -- will serve as an online portal for citizens to shop for health insurance plans and access government subsidies, if they qualify.
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