Gov. Butch Otter said Thursday he wants to use money from cigarette and tobacco taxes to fund a new health care program for some Idahoans who lack insurance coverage.
The plan, which would give each of the 78,000 Idahoans access to a medical clinic for routine visits, could cost up to $30 million a year when fully implemented.
Otter’s pitch, delivered to reporters at a press briefing ahead of Monday’s State of the State address, uses only state tax dollars and will not expand Medicaid, an option under Obamacare.
“We're not relying on the federal government,” Otter said. “We're going to do this at home. This is the Idaho solution.”
The program would not serve as insurance and wouldn’t cover speciality care, hospitalization or some prescriptions. Department of Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said he is working to create a low-cost prescription card for Idahoans in the gap, but signaled his proposal isn’t part of the governor’s plan.
If lawmakers approve the plan, Armstrong said residents wouldn’t all sign up at once, but rather would join the plan through a set time period.
Legislative leaders indicated their openness to the governor’s direct primary-care plan, but signaled they will need to flesh out details before moving anything forward.
Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said the plan might satiate much need for preventative and routine medical services.
“We want to do it right and this seems like a good step,” Hill said.
Hill said health care instability brought about by Washington, D.C., politics inspires Idaho lawmakers to take a conservative path.
“There’s a lot of instability out there,” Hill said.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, praised the governor for pitching the preventative care plan, but wondered about the particulars.
“I have to question for the price tag how much that actually covers,” Stennett said in regard to the program’s possible price tag. “I have to question the fiscal responsibility of this.”
Idaho Democrats have urged the Legislature to expand Medicaid, but Republicans rebuffed those requests.