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Idaho hospitals behind secretive website pushing Obamacare expansion

Idaho hospitals behind secretive website pushing Obamacare expansion

Dustin Hurst
January 30, 2015
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January 30, 2015

The Idaho Hospital Association is behind a secretive website that urges Gem State lawmakers to add more than 100,000 residents to government health care.

The site, HealthyIdaho.org, popped up within the last few weeks, but lacked any disclosure about who launched the project. After some digging, IdahoReporter.com learned the association stands behind the site -- but it may not be the only group supporting the effort.

“We at the Idaho Hospital Association are responsible for the website,” Toni Lawson, the group’s government relations director, said this week in an email.

The site urges Idahoans to contact their state legislators about Medicaid expansion, an option under the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. By expanding, the site suggests, Idaho can shift millions in health spending onto the federal ledgers, thereby freeing up state dollars for even more spending.

Along with the lack of disclosure on the pages themselves, the site-builders also went the extra mile to hide domain registry details, a common tactic for political websites.

Lawson offered this explanation for the site’s secretive nature:

The website was not branded so that any group who wanted to link to the website content could do so without being considered part of our association. We provide information from a number of sources that may or may not reflect the views of any single entity. It is simply an attempt to be useful to as many people as possible.

Others might be involved with the effort, too. IdahoReporter.com learned Neva Santos, executive director of the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, boasted some level of involvement in the site. Santos said she is personally involved, but not professionally.

To stump for Obamacare, the website uses stats and figures from some of America’s most liberal and progressive groups. The logo of the Center for American Progress, a top progressive organization stocked with high-profile liberals like climate extremist and billionaire Tom Steyer, graces the bottom of a chart talking up Medicaid’s benefits.

Medicaid expansion is one of the big topics of the 2015 legislative session, which just ended its third week. Friday morning, lawmakers held a listening session in which many speakers asked legislators to expand Medicaid. Gov. Butch Otter kept the expansion door open and suggested lawmakers hold hearings on the topic this year.

The plan is complex and pricy. Otter’s hand-picked work group voted for a third time last fall to recommend expansion to the Legislature, though the panel offered a new reform initiative this time. If the Legislature adopts the recommendation, 78,000 of the lowest-income new enrollees would take part in managed care, while Idaho would subsidize the purchase of private insurance coverage on the insurance exchange for about 25,000 higher earners.

The proposal would shift approximately $173 million annually -- if projections meet reality -- from Idaho’s books to the federal government’s tab. In total, the proposal would mean at least $606 million in new federal spending between 2016 and 2022.

If Idaho lawmakers take the expansion route, the state’s hospitals would likely see a dramatic influx of new -- and federally subsidized -- patients.

“U.S. hospitals are getting a stronger-than-expected benefit from a new influx of low-income patients whose bills are paid by the government's Medicaid program, raising their profit forecasts as a result,” Reuters reported last year.

Idaho hospitals are already top recipients of the state’s Medicaid money. The Department of Health and Welfare revealed last week that Idaho hospitals bring in about $40 million a month from Medicaid, far above any other providers.

Here’s the chart:


Either way, Lawson said her group will add contact information to the secretive site in the future.

“We will be adding contact information to the website so that anyone with inquiries has a clear way to contact us,” Lawson said.

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