Expand: A verb that means to become or make larger or more extensive. As in, “Gov. Butch Otter is asking lawmakers to expand Medicaid.” That’s a fact. Unfortunately, that’s not what you’re hearing from Otter or his aides.

During his State of the State speech earlier this month, the (mercifully) retiring governor was emphatic in his refusal of reality. Otter asserted, his latest Ottercare plan “is not expanding Medicaid.”

Days ago, at a House Health and Welfare Committee hearing, a puzzled Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, asked Idaho Department of Insurance Director Dean Cameron to clarify: How can it be that the proposal clearly results in more people being on government assistance, yet the program is not expanding?

Once again, the administration stuck to its script: the state of Idaho is not proposing an expansion of Medicaid, Cameron said. He added, “Certainly there (is) the potential of 2,500 additional people going onto Medicaid, so there is some growth there, but I would not call that Medicaid expansion.”

Such doublespeak is downright Orwellian.

Otter works to confuse Idahoans even further. He uses his executive order, which will allow insurance companies to offer plans not compliant with Obamacare, as cover for his plan to expand Medicaid. In other words, Otter’s intent, besides promoting co-signer Brad Little’s gubernatorial campaign, is to make people think his Medicaid expansion plan helps rollback Obamacare.

If implemented, thousands of Idahoans would be added onto Idaho’s Medicaid system. Those individuals wouldn’t be “forced” to join Medicaid. However, if they’re eligible for the expanded program but they refuse to sign up, they’ll lose access to Obamacare’s insurance subsidies. A separate group of about 30,000 Idahoans would become dependent on the federal government’s insurance subsidies, further complicating the repeal of Obamacare.

One more note: Idahoans are being told that the Ottercare plan to expand Medicaid would lower healthcare premiums for all Idahoans. Not so, as lawmakers learned during the aforementioned Health and Welfare Committee presentation. The governor’s plan might temporarily soften some of the expected increases in insurance premiums, but consumers can still expect health insurance costs to continue to climb.

Adding people onto Medicaid might—and I repeat, might—be a defensible course if it were coupled with a plan to also reduce the number of people on the program so that Idahoans are not so reliant on the government for their healthcare. To reduce the number of people reliant on Medicaid, Idaho could add work requirements, Medicaid co-payments, penalties for misuse of hospital emergency rooms, and semi-regular audits that remove ineligible people from the program.

Otter’s Medicaid expansion plan does none of that. Instead, he simply wants to add people onto the system with no safeguards to prevent an even larger influx of program enrollees in subsequent years, without any regard for cost containment or improving access to quality healthcare.

In virtually every setting imaginable, adding people to a government program would be called an expansion of said program. But not in the political sphere, where politicians can bend and twist the truth and language as they like.  

In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell famously wrote, “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful. …” Butch Otter is attempting to do just that as his administration pushes Medicaid expansion. Do yourself a favor: Don’t fall for the governor’s propaganda.

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