The Idaho Legislature failed the 78,000 Idahoans in the so-called Medicaid gap this week, walking away from the 2016 session without addressing the critical health care needs of their neighbors who make too much money to be considered for Medicaid and too little to access subsidized coverage through the Your Health Idaho exchange.
If there were a deadline other than a holiday weekend or preparing for the May 17 primary elections, we would like to know what it was. If there were something more pressing to discuss or to find consensus for, we would like to see the list that caused the Senate to adjourn on Thursday and the House on Friday without forming some kind of conference committee to work this matter through before each chamber pressed the abandon-ship button to evacuate the Statehouse.
Oh, not to worry, there’s a new work group on the horizon. There will be more talk to add to all the other talk already undertaken by two task forces that concluded a long time ago that it is in our best interests — financially, medically and morally — to take advantage of some option to expand Medicaid or apply for a waiver to design an Idaho path to use our tax money to care for our people.
We can appreciate that the House and the Senate were at an impasse — as demonstrated by the back and forth of HB 644 that passed the House on Wednesday. It was profoundly amended and passed by the Senate on Thursday, and then rejected by the House on Friday. But since when does such an impasse become an invitation to bail on 78,000 people, some of whose health — if not their life — could hang in the balance?
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Perhaps if the Idaho Legislature had just ruled out any and all initiatives that approached Medicaid expansion from the outset, it would have been easier to stomach what happened this week. But this topic has been on the agenda for four years and it was back at the top of the list when Gov. Butch Otter tried to work with Health and Welfare on a plan to set people up to see a doctor — but which then made no provision for treatment or prescriptions.
Indifference has led to negligence, and continued negligence will have a bad outcome.
We have had to commandeer an industrial-size metal detector to find any silver lining in the disappointing end to the session. But we will try.
Idaho Democrats, who get it and who have been on board with Medicaid expansion from the beginning, are being joined by a trickle of Republicans who now openly accept a responsibility to do something, and who more often express compassion alongside their conservatism. But too many Republicans remain stunted in their empathetic abilities. They can’t even comprehend the economic sense of preventive treatments instead of accepting the catastrophic expenses of heroic interventions when it is too late.
Though we’ll wait and see what Speaker Scott Bedke’s work group will get done in May, we hope Otter moves as early as Monday to issue an executive order to direct the Health and Welfare Department to begin investigating a waiver within the flexible rules of the Affordable Care Act. That action could result in a customized plan for Idaho to make use of federal contributions we make toward health care — but don’t yet use.
Otter has no political capital to lose. Idaho has everything to gain. The governor has an opportunity to show the Legislature the way.
It’s bad medicine when politics scuttles the well-being of the people. We hope some of our indifferent legislators lose some sleep for walking away this week. We hope voters send a message in the primary and the November general election that those in the gap have hearts that beat and voices to be heard.
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