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Idaho’s bailout of big insurance: Five things to know

Idaho’s bailout of big insurance: Five things to know

Dustin Hurst
January 22, 2018
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January 22, 2018

What do you get when you cross George W. Bush’s economic doctrine with Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement, and sprinkle that with a little Nancy Pelosi?

Answer: Idaho’s new government healthcare plan.

Just last week, Gov. Butch Otter’s administration proposed a plan officials say will save consumers money. The plan? Push thousands of chronically ill Idahoans off private insurance and onto the state’s government-healthcare system.

Something is rotten in Denmark, and the same can be said about this expansion of Idaho state government. Below are five things Gem State residents need to know what is ultimately an expansion of Medicaid.

It’s an insurance company bailout

Who doesn’t love a good business bailout? Most people don’t, actually. But Idaho’s insurance carriers want to dump their costliest clients onto the public dole and the proposed governor’s plan would facilitate that.

Related: Click here to email House Health & Welfare Committee members about this big insurance bailout.

For their portion, insurance carriers have promised to slash premiums for all other customers after shoving the costly clients onto taxpayers’ backs. However, there is no guarantee promised premium reductions will come to fruition. The rhetoric might remind older generations of a certain cartoon character who promised to “pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

The governor’s plan absolutely expands Medicaid

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, expand means “to increase the extent, number, volume, or scope of.” Thus, if someone wants to enlarge the scope of a government program, that person is literally expanding it.

Otter and some of his foot soldiers preach to the contrary. In the governor’s 2018 State of the State address, Otter denied the objective reality.

“This is not expanding Medicaid,” Otter declared, as if to settle the argument.

Official denials aside, it is expansion. No, this plan isn’t the Medicaid expansion allowed under Obamacare, which would add tens of thousands of Idahoans to government healthcare rolls. However, this scheme would add between 2,500 and 3,500 residents to the state’s Medicaid program.

That, governor, is expansion.

The plan would cost a bundle

Otter’s Medicaid expansion blueprint would cost more than $100 million a year, initially, and state taxpayers would cover nearly $30 million of that. That’s $30 million that wouldn’t fund schools, roads, or tax relief for families and small businesses.

For those keeping track at home, the $100 million would cover between 2,500 and 3,500 Idahoans. At the projected enrollment’s high end, the plan would cost more than $29,000. At the low end of 2,500 enrollees: nearly $40,000 per addition.

Keep in mind, too, Idahoans already spend more than $550 million a year on Medicaid. This proposed expansion, plus growth and other items tacked on to Medicaid spending, would increase state spending on this single line item to more than $614 million next yearan 11 percent increase.

The legislation is vaguely-defined

Good government demands that legislative proposals offer clear wording that can be vetted by lawmakers. Otter’s Medicaid expansion proposal fails that metric miserably.

Lawmakers should never pass a bill “to find out what’s in it,” as then-U.S. House Speaker Pelosi famously uttered in the midst of the Obamacare debate.

The expansion bill being advanced by Otter and crew, which allows the state to seek a Medicaid waiver from the federal government, would authorize the state to expand the healthcare program to people afflicted by “costly and complex” conditions.

The Otter administration says it will soon deliver to lawmakers a list of the conditions the plan would cover if enacted.

The uncertainty caused consternation among some House members. House Majority Caucus Chair John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, worried that the ambiguous language would give the state a “blank check” to expand the government healthcare program even further.

An alternative solution will emerge

Legislative conservatives won’t go along to get along on this critical issue. Instead, a number of liberty-minded lawmakers are crafting a small-government solution to the Otter proposal.

These innovators still need to paint the final picture, but an early look suggests they will reform Medicaid and allow insurance carriers to sell affordable, consumer-driver coverage, which Obamacare doesn’t permit.

Bonus point: Democrats appear to like the Otter proposal

Democrats, who hold 17 seats in the 105-member Idaho Legislature, have almost no voice in the Statehouse. Yet, as they vocalize their opinions on legislative issues, they are giving early approval to the Otter plan.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, would prefer full Medicaid expansion, but told the Post Register last week, Otter’s plan “has the potential to make a difference” in Idaho’s healthcare picture.

That endorsement alone should raise the hackles of Statehouse conservatives.

The bottom line is this: Those dedicated to limited government should question the Otter plan’s vague wording and its $100 million starting price. Additionally, lawmakers themselves should seriously ponder the propriety of a taxpayer-funded bailout of big insurance.

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