CHUCK MALLOY: Ahlquist offers ‘outsider’s view’ on health care

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Is health care a right, or is it a privilege?

Democrats and Republicans typically give different answers to that question. But as Idaho Republican gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist sees it, “that’s not the right question.” And he doesn’t let it go with a one-word answer.

Ahlquist, a Boise business developer and former physician, thinks he has the solution to the health care dilemma in Idaho.

“The good news about health care is we are not Michigan, and we don’t have these giant urban centers,” said Ahlquist. “If we make changes to health care now in Idaho, you watch. Five or 10 years from now, people will be pointing to Idaho and saying, ‘that’s how you solve the problem.’”

His multitiered plan sounds simple, and nothing in politics — especially something as hot as health care — is ever that simple. But with Ahlquist, there’s no shortage of confidence, conviction and a “can-do” attitude. His hope-filled message sells well in campaign stump speeches and town-hall meetings.

Here’s what his plan includes.

“One, we need to reform Medicaid; they did it in Indiana, and we can do it here. If we could get a block grant, that would be even better. We would be far better at delivering Medicaid dollars to our people than the bureaucrats in Washington,” he said. “There’s fraud, waste and abuse in the system and the billing practices of Medicaid are crippling our system. It’s fixable … and it can be done with a governor petitioning the federal government for a waiver, if the law stays the same.”

Ahlquist, who rails against burdensome regulations on all fronts, says he can reduce the mandates of health insurance plans from 55 to 13 — the level that was in place before Obamacare. “That would reduce premiums today by 40 percent. Can you imagine putting 40 percent of those dollars back in the hands of businesses and individuals throughout the state? Then, we would create a high-risk pool, which we used to have; it worked before, and it can work again — even better than before.”

Add transparency, and the ability to effectively compare costs and services to the mix, “and you are not going to be asking these idealistic questions,” he says. “You’re going to be saying, ‘Oh my gosh, look what we’ve done in Idaho.’ It’s affordable to have health care coverage for families, and we’re taking care of people. We’re going to do it.”

Health care is one of the top concerns expressed by Idahoans, and for good reason. Costs for health care coverage are skyrocketing, and for some 78,000 working-poor Idahoans, coverage either is unattainable or unaffordable.

But health care is far from the only issue in his campaign. Ahlquist recently sent out a news release, with a seven-point plan to address Idaho’s opioid crisis and another one vowing to ensure that state spending does not outpace the state’s economic growth. Earlier, he presented a plan for ethics reform, which includes term limits for state officeholders. He speaks with gusto about education, tax policy and the economy — giving audiences a full perspective of why he’s running, and what he wants to accomplish. “It all goes together,” he says.

It’s easy for the political sages to write off Ahlquist’s chances of winning in this three-way race. He has never run for, nor served, in a public office, which drives the political establishment nuts. For now, he doesn’t have the name recognition of his two opponents, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Congressman Raul Labrador, and he probably won’t gather a long list of endorsements from Republican legislators. But Ahlquist tells audiences that professional politicians don’t have all the answers, and he sticks that landing.

Nationally, and within the Republican Party, it’s not unheard of for people to go from the private sector to the governor’s office. Several have done so, including Rick Scott of Florida and Pete Ricketts of Nebraska. What makes Ahlquist formidable is his message and ability to effectively deliver it.

He also has plenty of money to boot.

• • •

Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.

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