Medicaid expansion is a policy loser in Idaho

Fred Birnbaum Articles

The pundits will sift through the results of the 2016 election for some time. Many will cite the WikiLeaks scandal or FBI Director Comey’s ill-timed re-opening of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as reasons for Donald Trump’s victory.

However, let’s not overlook one of President Barack Obama’s signature policies – the so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA).

You see, while the president was boasting about the increasing number of Americans getting health insurance under the ACA, many hard-working Americans were receiving heart-stopping premium increases, year after year. This was not even the “craziest thing,” to steal a line from Bill Clinton.

The craziest thing: ACA defenders, nationally and in Idaho, did not seem to notice that many self-employed and small business people were being brought to their knees over premium increases. Yet, simultaneously, the ACA was offering “no-cost” healthcare coverage through Medicaid expansion to able bodied adults who choose not to work or only work part time.

It is fundamentally unfair for the government to force someone, who is working full-time, to purchase a product they may not want or can’t afford and turn around to offer another person “no-cost” health insurance — even if he or she could afford to pay a small premium.

Perhaps it was not surprising that Hillary Clinton appeared tone deaf on this issue. What is surprising, many Idaho legislators on both sides of the aisle shared the same ailment – and they faced the same electoral outcome. State Reps. Merrill Beyeler, R-Leadore, and Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, both embraced Medicaid expansion and fell to primary opponents. Perhaps this is not surprising as they represent conservative districts.

However, two of Medicaid expansions’ strongest proponents, Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, and Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, lost in the general election to Republican challengers. We can’t entirely blame their loss on their tireless support of Medicaid expansion, but it is fair to point out that neither legislator represents an overly conservative district. Sen. Schmidt penned an opinion commentary in the Idaho Statesman supporting Medicaid expansion just before the election, and Rusche’s website purports to count the number of Idahoans who have died due to a lack of healthcare coverage.

It would seem obvious at this point that the co-chairs of the interim healthcare alternatives working group, Rep. Tom Loertscher and Sen. Marv Hagedorn, should stand down on Medicaid expansion. Simply renaming Medicaid expansion “Healthy Idaho” or tucking it under the “Statewide Healthcare Innovation Plan,” will not fool Idahoans.

If we’re to expand healthcare coverage for truly needy Idahoans, let’s come up with an alternative that relies on free market solutions.