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Otter task force to recommend Medicaid expansion this year

Otter task force to recommend Medicaid expansion this year

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 19, 2013
[post_thumbnail]Members of Gov. Butch Otter's task force discuss Medicaid expansion.

Gov. Butch Otter’s task force on Medicaid expansion is preparing to formally recommend that Idaho expand Medicaid now, despite Otter’s assertion in January that he was not seeking such expansion this year.

“I’m sure we’re going to do this at some point, so why not now?” task force member Dr. Ted Epperly said during Monday’s meeting. “With inaction, we stand to lose between $44 and $100 million. We need to do this through the Legislature, I know. I just hope the Legislature will do it now.”

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.

Last summer, Otter appointed a task force to study the possibility of Medicaid expansion in Idaho. In January of this year Otter spoke of Medicaid in his State of the State address, noting that “there’s a lot more work to do, and we face no immediate federal deadline. We have time to do this right, and there is broad agreement that the existing Medicaid program is broken. So I’m seeking no expansion of those benefits.”

Last week Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, proposed legislation to the House Health and Welfare Committee that would on the one hand scuttle Idaho’s state catastrophic care (CAT) fund system (a program that provides health care services for persons in dire circumstances and which is funded with both state tax revenues and local property taxes), and on the other hand would allow for Idaho’s Medicaid program to expand by loosening the eligibility requirements for it.

Loertscher surmised because the federal government is promising to reimburse the states for their first two years of Medicaid expansion costs, Idaho could save several million dollars in state revenues by acting on the Obama administration’s offer now. “If we’re going to expand Medicaid, this would be an ideal year to do it,” Loertscher told the committee.

Monday, the Medicaid task force was adamant that the expansion must happen this year. “Because of the political environment, we need to recommend to the governor that members of the Legislature receive education on this issue,” noted task force member Susie Pouliot, of the Idaho Medical Association. “They need to know what we know, but because it is called ‘Medicaid expansion,’ I’m concerned that the legislators may be hesitant.”

“Could Gov. Otter just do the expansion this year by executive order, if the Legislature refuses to act?” Epperly asked during the task force meeting.

“I do not believe so,” responded Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, who also serves on the task force. “I suggest that this group leave the politics out of it, however, and recommend whatever it believes is the right thing to the governor.”

IdahoReporter.com contacted Otter’s office to inquire about the desire for Medicaid expansion and whether or not Otter’s position on expanding Medicaid this year was changing.

“I disagree with the assertion that the Governor’s position has changed on this issue,” Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said in an email. “What the Governor said in the State of the State address still stands. He has asked Director Armstrong (Richard Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare) to flesh out a path forward and believes that the current Medicaid system is broken. The Governor gave Director Armstrong the charge to understand the costs and savings associated with Medicaid expansion and how these would affect the state and our citizens. That research does not end until there is a final determination by the Governor and the legislature on what will be the best course of action for the state.”

Hanian also told Idaho Reporter.com that the governor does not comment on legislation as it is making its way through the Legislature and, thus, declined to comment on Loertscher’s Medicaid expansion bill.

At the conclusion of Monday’s task force meeting, Corey Surber, community health coordinator at St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and facilitator for the task force meeting, noted that formal notification of the task force’s recommendation would be sent to Otter late this week.

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