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Orwell was right: The “waiver” is Medicaid expansion

Orwell was right: The “waiver” is Medicaid expansion

Dustin Hurst
April 3, 2016
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April 3, 2016

Back in November 2014, I wrote a commentary that offered my thoughts on Dr. Stephen Weeg’s dedication to Orwellian language.

Weeg, the leader of Gov. Butch Otter’s hand-picked Medicaid working group, encouraged his colleagues to not refer to Medicaid expansion as just that -- Medicaid expansion.

Instead, Weeg urged the medical community to call it Healthy Idaho, a perfectly dystopian term for a plan to expand a government program that neither works wonders for health outcomes, nor originates in the Gem State.

Weeg didn’t explicitly say it, but I believed he intended to disguise the dirty language of Medicaid expansion in favor of something that might appeal to low-information voters.

Since then, special interests and liberal bloggers in Idaho have parroted the term near and far. It’s been a case study for effective marketing and public relations.

During the 2016 legislative session and the days following as legislators reported to their constituents, we witnessed a renewed offensive. 

Now, a number of Idaho lawmakers are spreading their own distortions, deceptions and half-truths.

One glaring example, this week, Rep. Merrill Beyeler, R-Leadore, told Republicans in Challis he does not support Medicaid expansion.

But, he does.

Beyeler is a member of the Gang of Five on the House Health and Welfare Committee. These five representatives have pledged to vote against every bill the panel sees in 2017, unless there’s an up-or-down vote on the so-called Medicaid waiver.

He also supported a bill this year to form an interim committee to study the waiver process.

No matter what Beyeler and others say: The waiver is Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

If Beyeler had his druthers this past session, Department of Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong would now hold the power to negotiate a Medicaid waiver with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The waiver centers on a policy idea that Idaho Republicans floated this year: Legislators would cover only a portion of the so-called gap population under Medicaid.

For progressives, that idea was like getting to very unromantic first base.

Beyeler’s plan would open the door to full Medicaid expansion, even if it wouldn’t come for a few years. The camel’s nose and hump would be in the tent.

To be sure, this is a discussion Idaho needs to have. Will Idaho follow along in Obama’s footsteps, follow the federal government in fiscal chaos? Or will Idaho legislators resist counterproductive, bureaucratic and costly ideas and special interest pressure to find a more palatable solution that helps people lift themselves from poverty?

To have an honest debate, though, requires that the language employed be fair and accurate so Idahoans can properly decide the state’s future. Legislators must be truthful and forthright.

Here’s a challenge to Idaho legislators: Be upfront about your Medicaid position. Stand for what you believe in, even if it might cost you political capital or your seat in the Capitol.

If you want an up-or-down vote in 2017 about Medicaid expansion, give up-or-down answers. Idahoans deserve it.

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