Media, lawmakers need to start talking about state Medicaid spending crisis

Wayne Hoffman Articles, Medicaid Leave a Comment

It wasn’t so long ago that Idaho newspaper editorial pages and TV newscasters couldn’t shut up about Medicaid expansion. They’d opine almost daily on how wonderful it would be to extend the government entitlement program to thousands more participants in the Gem State. Media paraded would-be Medicaid clients in front of cameras as victims of conservative legislators’ inaction years after Obamacare expanded Medicaid in 2010.   

In 2018, news organizations lined up behind a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid, writing stories that talked about all the lives, and all the money, that would be saved if only voters said yes to the program. And, importantly, reporters and editorial writers were either dismissive of or openly hostile to the idea that Medicaid expansion would blow past the government’s cost estimates. There’s no doubt that the one-sided coverage of the issue (as well as millions of dollars from out-of-state medical and labor special interests) played a part in the passage.

Now, the actual costs of Medicaid expansion are in, and news writers are virtually silent on the matter. As of today, there have been a total of two news articles on the topic. Why? Because as Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Fred Birnbaum noted recently, Milliman, the consulting firm the state hired to predict Medicaid expansion’s costs, was not only wrong on its forecasts, the firm was wildly wrong. 

In other words, newspaper editorial writers and other Medicaid expansion proponents gave voters the Milliman numbers to win their support  for Medicaid expansion in 2018, and those numbers were not even close to accurate. 

Plain and simple, voters were misled. And now, few in the media are talking about it. 

Rather than own that fact and report what’s happened since the 2018 election that made expansion law, they choose to say nothing. And why wouldn’t they? It must be an embarrassing situation for them, made even more troublesome by the fact that IFF was right when it said the figures presented in support of Medicaid expansion were not to be trusted.

That said, the purpose of this column isn’t to spike the football. It’s to point out the fact that Idaho is on a collision course with reality. As Birnbaum notes, if the trend continues, Medicaid will soon consume half of the state’s budget, easily surpassing K-12 education as the state government’s biggest program. This has been a trend for years, and it has similarly been ignored by lawmakers and media pundits for years.  

In fact, I brought up this issue 20 years ago at a workshop put on by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (then, a powerful lobbying organization in the state). At that point, Medicaid cost Idaho taxpayers less than $600 million annually. Ten years later, Medicaid’s price tag was nearly $1.5 billion. Next year, lawmakers are expected to consider a budget in which Medicaid is predicted  to reach $3.2 billion.  

If you’re wondering why your roads are too congested, or you believe not enough money is reaching your kids’ school, or your taxes are too high, it’s because the Medicaid program is gobbling up every taxpayer dollar it lays eyes on. It’s a catastrophe in the making, and it won’t get any better by doing nothing. 

State officials must get serious about the problem. And journalists need to stop hiding the truth about the looming Medicaid disaster from the public.