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Medicaid expansion bills advanced by House committee

Medicaid expansion bills advanced by House committee

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 14, 2013
[post_thumbnail] Rep. Thomas Loertscher introduced legislation to expand Medicaid.

The House Health and Welfare Committee has chosen to advance legislation that would expand the state’s Medicaid program.

“If we’re going to expand Medicaid, this would be an ideal year to do it,” said Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, in presenting two legislative proposals to the committee.

One proposal is to 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 proposal 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 component of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act law 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 an elective choice for each of the states.

Loertscher believes that by shutting down Idaho’s CAT program and moving those eligible to Medicaid, then expanding the state’s Medicaid program, Idaho state government can actually save money. The Obama administration is currently offering federal funds to the states to pay for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion costs for the first three years.

“How will the insurance exchange impact the state’s budget with respect to the CAT fund?” asked Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa.

“We really don’t know,” Loertscher replied. “That is the big unknown right now.”

“Isn’t this just a tax shift, shifting the burden of public health care costs from state and local taxes to the federal income tax?” Vander Woude asked again.

“Yes,” Loertscher replied, “this is some more of that free federal money that we’re talking about. But our state would save money in the long run.”

“I’m not a fan of expanding Medicaid,” noted Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell. “I don’t think we want Idaho to become more dependent on Washington. Our federal government borrows about 43 cents out of every dollar that it spends.”

“Mr. Chairman,” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, interrupting Hixon. “Is this really pertinent to the bill before us?”

“Let’s stay focused on the bill itself,” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, chairman of the committee, noted to Hixon.

“This is a tax shift,” Vander Woude restated. “I don’t see any real savings to the state. We’re just shifting our reliance from state and local taxes to federal taxes. We can take all the bribes that the feds want to throw at us, but it is not a savings. And we can have this conversation, and I support the printing of the bill, but I don’t want to expand Medicaid.”

The committee voted unanimously to move the two bills forward, and will debate them further in the coming days.

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