Gov. Butch Otter said in January that he believes the state’s Medicaid program was “broken,” and that he did not intend to seek expansion of the program this year. Yet despite his expressed his intentions, an expansion effort was undertaken in the House of Representatives last month, and now, after the conclusion of the legislative session, some are talking about a special legislative session this year to make the expansion a reality.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, replied when IdahoReporter.com contacted him this week about the rumors of a special legislative session this year. “You should contact the governor’s office, but I sincerely doubt that this is what he (Otter) has in mind.”
“There is no truth to that rumor,” Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary told IdahoReporter.com when asked about a special legislative session.
“Obviously, only Gov. Otter can call for a special legislative session,” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told IdahoReporter.com. “The governor outlined conditions for Medicaid reform, and I don’t think he’ll call for a special session unless his conditions are met. I do think, however, the benefits of $40 million a year to the state would be worth the trouble of calling a special legislative session. There are a lot of people interested in this happening, certainly a lot of health care providers, and county agencies that provide health care to indigents, they want to see this happen.”
“The governor said he did not wish to seek Medicaid expansion this year,” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told IdahoReporter.com. “I see no evidence that his position has changed.”
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, concurs with Moyle, Bedke and Rusche, in that she has no knowledge of plans for a special legislative session. “The minority caucuses (House and Senate Democrats) would nonetheless support that idea, I believe,” she noted.
Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, told IdahoReporter.com that “I believe there have been business people meeting and discussing this idea. I think they want to refer to it as Medicaid Redesign,” she said, and notes that as a means of reforming Medicaid, the goal would be to charge Medicaid recipients a “co-pay” fee.
House Assistant Minority Leader Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, concurs with Ward-Engelking on the co-pay matter. “We want recipients of the benefit to have some skin in the game with it,” he told IdahoReporter.com.
“I’ve run the trap line and made telephone calls on this,” Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said. “I’ve found nobody who is saying that there is a special legislative session in the works. But does that mean that people are working and putting together plans for Medicaid expansion? I would certainly think that they are, because this will be on the top three items for us legislatively in 2014.”
Efforts to legislatively expand Medicaid surfaced in the Legislature in mid-March when Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, presented an expansion plan to the House Health and Welfare Committee, noting that “If we’re going to expand Medicaid, this would be an ideal year to do it.”
One component of Loertscher’s plan would scuttle Idaho’s state catastrophic care (CAT) fund system, which provides health care services for persons in dire circumstances, funded with both state tax revenues and local property taxes. The other component would allow for Idaho’s Medicaid program to expand by loosening the eligibility requirements for it.
Begun in 1965, the Medicaid program provides certain health care services to individuals and families with low incomes and limited resources. Financed with a combination of federal and state tax revenues, the expanding costs of Medicaid have in recent years become a topic of growing concern among the individual states, despite the eligibility of the program being based on a variety of means testing processes.
A key element of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act law (Obamacare) was to have mandated that the individual states reduce eligibility requirements for Medicaid, and expand the number of participants in their respective programs. However, the United States Supreme Court overturned that component of the Obamacare law, so expansion of Medicaid is now left as an elective choice for each of the states.
Loertscher believes that by shutting down Idaho’s CAT program and moving those eligible to Medicaid, and then expanding the state’s Medicaid program, Idaho state government can actually save money. The Obama administration is currently offering federal funds to pay for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion costs for the first three years, to any state that chooses to accept the offer this calendar year.
But by the time the legislative session was concluded on Thursday, April 4, Loertscher’s legislative proposals had gone nowhere.