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Republican Wood again endorses Medicaid expansion, aligns with Democrat Rusche

Republican Wood again endorses Medicaid expansion, aligns with Democrat Rusche

Dustin Hurst
February 18, 2015
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February 18, 2015

One Idaho Republican quietly endorsed Medicaid expansion again, saying it’s the obvious solution to meet the needs of some Idaho residents.

That endorsement aligns Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, with House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

In the House Health and Welfare Committee meeting Tuesday, Wood, the panel’s chair, asked his colleagues for input as to what he should report to the Legislature’s joint budget committee Thursday morning. Wood said he planned to ask budget writers to do as much as possible for crisis centers and mental health, among other things.

Rusche, a loud advocate for expansion, quickly perked up and offered his own backing of Medicaid expansion. “The best thing that can be done for mental health … is to expand Medicaid to the gap population,” the Democrat said.

That gap population consists of about 78,000 Idahoans, if state projections are accurate, too rich for Medicaid but too poor to qualify for an Obamacare tax credit in the insurance exchange.

“We should not ignore the most significant tool we have to improve mental health services in the state of Idaho,” Rusche added.

Wood agreed with the Democrat, but explained his chairman’s report to the budget panel pertains to spending issues, not policy questions. “That’s not the purview here,” Wood said.

“The question is … what can JFAC (the budget committee) do with respect to funding for the department to do as much as we can until we, the Legislature, can come and do what we collectively need to do,” Wood said.

“You and I agree,” Rusche said.

“I agree,” Wood offered.

The Democrat flashed some frustration at the process. “We can talk until the cows come home,” Rusche said. “But, somebody else needs to start talking about this.”

Wood closed the exchange with another Medicaid endorsement.. “The single most valuable thing is a pay source for every single person to have health care,” Wood said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

The Republican has previously called expansion a no-brainer.

Pressure continues to grow as the conservative Legislature again rejects Medicaid expansion, which would add at least 100,000 residents to government health care. Gov. Butch Otter’s Department of Health and Welfare recommended expansion to senators and representatives, casting it as an opportunity to shift health coverage costs to the federal government.

Otter himself has not endorsed expansion, but has suggested lawmakers examine parts of Armstrong’s plan.

DHW’s expansion proposal contains reform elements, including placing some new enrollees in managed care plans, while others would receive state subsidies to purchase private coverage through the insurance exchange.

The plan, officials believe, would save Idaho state and county taxpayers $173 million through the next decade, but would create billions in new federal spending through the program.

Armstrong told lawmakers his initiative would come with an opt-out trigger if the federal government lowers the match rate for new enrollees, 90 percent for most of the next 10 years. Idaho Freedom Foundation President Fred Birnbaum wrote Wednesday the department might be ignoring federal statutes and case law that would prevent the Gem State from leaving expansion if it eventually enters.

More than 270,000 Idahoans use Medicaid and it could cost the state as much as $507 million next year. The total program cost, including dedicated and federal funds, checks in at just more than $2.1 billion.

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