A proposal to expand the federal Medicaid welfare program in the Gem State has been rejected by the Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee. But, according to Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, chair of the committee, a different plan to “redesign” Medicaid will be presented to the committee later this month.
Wood told committee members that within the next two to three weeks, Richard Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, would be presenting a plan whereby other states have expanded Medicaid in a redesigned fashion. Wood served on Gov. Butch Otter’s Medicaid expansion working group which, in March of 2013, recommended immediate expansion of the program.
“I understand that taking up Medicaid coverage is a very difficult thing for many of you,” testified House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, as he presented the Medicaid expansion proposal to his fellow committee members. “I want to talk to you for a moment about working adults in our state.”
According to Rusche, there is a segment of the Idaho population that is “too poor” to receive health insurance subsidies from Idaho’s government-run health insurance exchange, yet because they are working and generating some level of income they nonetheless do not qualify for Medicaid under current eligibility standards. Rusche told the committee that by expanding Medicaid eligibility, health care coverage could be extended in such a way that lives would be saved and workplace productivity would rise.
“We could save about 100 unnecessary deaths a year,” Rushe said. “With proper health care there would also be fewer people missing work and developing better work habits.”
After the Supreme Court’s decision approving Obamacare, the Obama administration offered to provide federal funds to the individual states to cover the cost of Medicaid expansion for its first few years since the court said Medicaid expansion should be left to the states.
Rusche told committee members that even after the temporary federal expansion subsidy expires, Idaho would still save money with an expanded Medicaid recipient roster. “The greatest savings are in the first few years, as one would expect given federal subsidies. But there is no year beyond that where the state doesn’t come out ahead.”
Following Rusche’s presentation, Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, motioned “that we send the bill back to the sponsor.”
Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, responded, “I want to entertain another motion. We have about 100,000 people who through no fault of their own fall into the gap that Rep. Rusche described. I believe we have a moral obligation to not leave them out in the cold. I move that we introduce this bill.”
Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, replied “this is a painful discussion. The data suggest that this is where we need to go, but the way we deliver Medicaid needs improvement. I will support the motion to send this bill back.”
Rep. Brandon Hixon, R- Caldwell, agreed with Perry, stating “the way we deliver Medicaid is broken.” Hixon also told Rusche that “I would remind you that this plan came from a president that Idaho did not want.”
“I have a word from your chairman, if you’ll indulge me,” Wood interrupted. “We do have a real issue with indigent health care in Idaho. We have a very inefficient system and a very high cost system that simply doesn’t deliver much health care to Idaho citizens. However, I do believe that at this time, Idaho is not ready to expand Medicaid. The governor had a working group to consider this idea, and the group decided that what they wanted was not merely an expansion of an entitlement program. They wanted a redesigned Medicaid program that is efficient and delivers more.”
On a roll call vote, the motion to return Rusche’s bill passed along party lines, 9-2, with Republicans voting in favor, Democrats against.