The Senate Health and Welfare Committee Tuesday voted unanimously to hold a legislative proposal to shift the burden of some types of indigent health care services to private, nonprofit organizations. Senate Bill 1347 sought to eliminate the state’s Catastrophic Health Care Fund (CAT) and to establish a funding mechanism for regional community health centers.
“I’d like to present to you some alternatives to Medicaid expansion,” said Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, in presenting the bill to the committee. His plan is to shut down the CAT program, which is funded with a combination of state revenues and local property tax revenues collected at the county level, and use the state funds currently going to the CAT program to bolster and expand community health centers.
Community health centers, Thayn explained, are private, nonprofit entities that exist nationwide and are funded with a combination of federal, state and sometimes local government grants.
Last year Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, proposed to close down the CAT program, but replace it with an expanded eligibility for the federal Medicaid program. Loertscher told IdahoReporter.com that he intends to revive that idea this year.
Thayn told the committee “rather than expand Medicaid, let’s use some of the money we would spend on Medicaid and use it to expand community health centers,” adding “at some point we’ve got to seriously look at weaning our state from federal funding.”
During questioning, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, asked how the first community health centers were established and what the possibility would be of adding new centers in the rural parts of the state.
Tom Fronk, of the Idaho Primary Care Association, whose association is against the bill, answered that “the centers start usually with a federal grant.” Noting that Idaho currently has 13 community health centers operating in 45 different locations, he added that “it is definitely a possibility of obtaining federal grants to set up additional health centers, but rural Idaho suffers the way rural Montana and other states do.”
Fronk explained that community health centers are usually established amid population centers, and stated that “we have saturated the more populated areas of Idaho.”
Christine Tiddens of the Catholic Charities of Idaho told the committee she opposes Thayn’s bill, but he should be commended for his attempt at helping. She said “far too many hardworking Idaho families are being let down by our health care system. With this bill the poorest and most vulnerable will be left without care. We have another option, and that’s Gov. Otter’s working group that suggested Medicaid expansion. With Medicaid expansion, we can eliminate needless suffering in Idaho. As faithful and responsible citizens we have to come together and support social justice and compassion.”
In contrast, Wayne Hoffman, president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, said “Expansion of Medicaid is not the solution. There is nothing compassionate about taking the poor and putting them into a Medicaid system that we all agree is basically broken and making them dependent on a federal treasury that has no money.”
Hoffman added “I was really intrigued in my own backyard in Nampa. I happened on some friends of mine that had a Bible study group, and wanted to give back to their community in some way.” He explained that the group did something “really bold,” and began a nonprofit community health center, now known as the Canyon County Clinic.
“It is contingent upon donors, people who give money, people who give medicine, doctors who give of their time and services,” said Hoffman. “It is a system that is not overrun by bureaucrats and administrators.”
At the end of the committee hearing, members voted unanimously to hold the bill to allow for changes and adjustments to it.
Note: The original version of the story, since corrected, said the Idaho Primary Care Association favored the legislation. It does not. The association says its official position is "when asked if we could implement the program and see all the patients if the funds were shifted and Tom (representing the association) answered no, and we don’t have the capacity. In fact, Senator Thayn prefaced his introductory remarks with a statement that we were in the audience (for) technical assistance, not to testify, and he didn’t believe we supported his legislation, and he is correct."
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.