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Packer, Bell endorse government health care expansion

Packer, Bell endorse government health care expansion

Dustin Hurst
March 10, 2016
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March 10, 2016

Though a new government health care expansion pitched this year by Gov. Butch Otter remains on life support, two state legislators aren’t ready to pull the plug.

In a Tuesday afternoon speech to the Idaho Association of Health Underwriters, Reps. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, and Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, endorsed the Primary Care Access Program that Otter pitched prior to the 2016 session’s opening in January.

“I might be shot for saying this, but I recommend at least the PCAP,” Packer told the group assembled in the auditorium. “Let’s at least do something, because again, it allows us to clearly identify what really is the situation.”

Otter’s PCAP program would cost around $30 million annually, though the first year or two might come in substantially lower because of the ramp-up time it could take to sign up health-care gap particpants.

The program would cover basic health services for the 78,000 Idahoans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for a tax credit through the insurance exchange. The basic services covered would include routine tests and primary-care doctor visits; the program would not cover medications, speciality care or catastrophic health events.

Democrats almost instantly rejected the plan and characterized it as insufficient. They pushed for Medicaid expansion instead.

Some Republicans balked at Otter’s plan. The House State Affairs Committee rejected a separate bill to pay for the plan because it only partially funded PCAP. That bill, pitched by Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, only provided partial funding for five years. After that, the Legislature would have had to revisit the issue.

Still, Packer and Bell won’t let the program die.

Packer, who has endorsed full Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, said there is “no clear leadership” on health care legislation, which leads to mixed signals among legislators.

She intimated that doing nothing for the people in the gap is not an option for her. “The poorest of the poor are the only ones without an option and that, to me, is wrong,” Packer told the group.

Bell, who serves as a co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, told the health underwriters group that her committee has planned at least some of the funding for PCAP’s first year.

“I truly have had $20 million set aside to vote for something like that PCAP,” Bell explained. “And it’s still there.”

Neither legislator spoke about the prospects of a PCAP resurrection before the Legislature closes shop in a few weeks.

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