Will Idaho make people on Medicaid work for their insurance? New governor says maybe

Brad Little gives an acceptance speech after becoming Idaho’s new governor

Brad Little addressed a crowd at the Republican election night party on Tuesday, Nov. 6 after the AP announced Little as Idaho's new governor.
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Brad Little addressed a crowd at the Republican election night party on Tuesday, Nov. 6 after the AP announced Little as Idaho's new governor.

Idaho Gov.-elect Brad Little said Thursday that conditions on Medicaid coverage aren’t off the table as the state implements expansion of the health insurance program to low-income and childless adults.

More than 60 percent of Idaho voters in November approved the expansion under Proposition 2, giving Medicaid access to tens of thousands of Idahoans. But the expansion still must make its way through the legislative appropriations process, where lawmakers can add conditions such as work requirements.

“I consistently said from the very first time I was asked a question about it [that] if it passes, we will implement it,” Little said at an Associated Press legislative preview event. But, he added, implementation will be done “in an Idaho manner.”

Little said he believes the state must provide a “safety net” for people who are in poverty to get health care. But, he said, there must also be “pathways for people in Medicaid — whether it’s existing Medicaid or new Medicaid — for people to get out of it.”

Does that leave the door open for a requirement that people on Medicaid be working or looking for work, or meeting other obligations, in order to keep their health insurance?

“That’ll be part of the discussion,” Little said.

Work requirements in Arkansas have resulted in people who should receive Medicaid coverage being dropped from the program. Thousands have lost coverage since the new rules took effect in Arkansas. Some of that is likely due to a better economy. But the coverage losses “may also be due in part to [state] policies that cancel people’s insurance because of returned mail or failure to respond to minor paperwork,” Arkansas Times journalist Benjamin Hardy reported in October.

Following Little’s remarks, State Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett of Ketchum noted that “most of the people that are in that [Medicaid] gap are already working.”

Voters approved “a clean, clear Medicaid expansion, and so I’m hoping that’s what we do,” Stennett said, referring to not adding special conditions to the expansion.

State House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said that’s unlikely. The Idaho Legislature has “never left anything alone in their history,” and he doubts it will start doing so now, he said.

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Watchdog reporter Audrey Dutton joined the Statesman in 2011. Before that, she covered finance policy in Washington, D.C., during the financial crisis. She also worked as a reporter in Maryland, Minneapolis and New York. Audrey hails from Twin Falls.