The 16 freshman members of the Idaho House who are supporting Gov. “Butch” Otter’s plan for a state-designed insurance exchange can take a bow for pledging to move the issue from the ideological to the practical. Otter must welcome the support of the group of 16, since some conservative lawmakers have been dragging their heels on enacting a bill because it was a brainchild of the Obama administration.

But Idaho has little choice. We can either put together a state insurance exchange, or the feds will do it for us.

State Rep. Kelley Packer, of McCammon, had it right in joining the gang of 16. “Simply doing nothing is irresponsible,” she is quoted. That’s even in the face of threats by some opponents that her budding political career could be in jeopardy as a result.

Idahoans should welcome the provisions that the freshmen want attached to the bill — forbidding Idaho from using state taxpayer money to fund the plan, the addition of two non-voting legislators to an 18-member exchange board, and requirement for open meetings.

Some of the provisions in the original health care bill passed by Congress and sanctified by the U.S. Supreme Court are promising. President Obama says the insurance exchanges should be “a market where Americans can one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and costs, and choose a plan that’s best for them. None of these plans should deny coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition, and all of these plans should include an affordable basic benefit package that includes prevention, and protecting against catastrophic costs.”

Exchanges are not themselves insurers; they determine the insurance companies that are allowed to participate in them. Buyers can choose coverage from insurance plans offered in four tiers designated from lowest premium and highest premium: bronze, silver, gold and platinum.

Otter has said there is $20 million available from the federal government to design Idaho’s exchange. After it begins operating on Jan. 1, 2014, it will be funded by those who buy insurance over the exchange. The Idaho Department of Insurance regulates health insurers and will enforce plans that companies offer. Director Bill Deal will sort out details.

The bill supported by the freshman lawmakers won introduction in the House Health and Welfare Committee, and will be debated by the full House, as well as the Idaho Senate. Whatever emerges, it’s now almost certain to have an Idaho brand.

Here’s what State Rep. Luke Malek, a Coeur d’Alene Republican, has to say about the bill:

“We have introduced legislation in the insurance exchange battle that protects individual rights, defends state sovereignty and gives Idaho what we believe to be the best option for dealing with the realities of Obamacare.”

Among the 16 freshman supporters are Julie VanOrden, Pingree, and Neil Anderson, Blackfoot, as well as Packer. They would appreciate hearing from people who recognize they are right on this issue.