Elections

Newly formed ‘Work, Not Obamacare PAC’ to fight Idaho Medicaid expansion

Voters at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise in November 2016. Idahoans will be asked to decide this fall on whether to expand Medicaid in this state.
Voters at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise in November 2016. Idahoans will be asked to decide this fall on whether to expand Medicaid in this state.

There’s a new player in the fight over Medicaid expansion — or at least, new jerseys for some varsity members of the team.

The newly formed Work, Not Obamacare PAC is aimed at “educating voters about Prop 2,” said PAC chairman Bob Tikker, president of Tikker Engineering.

In November, Idaho voters will consider Proposition 2 — otherwise known as the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative — which would expand Medicaid eligibility to everyone under 138 percent of the poverty line.

And with two months to go before the election, expect to see a lot of money going into both sides of the campaign.

Tikker said he is active with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, but stressed the PAC is separate from the foundation itself.

Idaho Freedom Foundation vice president Fred Birnbaum confirmed to Idaho Reports that the foundation and Work, Not Obamacare PAC are separate entities.

“There’s a lot of election law complexity. We’re going to follow the law to the T,” Birnbaum said. “The Freedom Foundation can do policy work. We can talk about the flaws of expansion. We’ll continue to opine on that.”

But, he added, as an IFF representative, he would stop short of encouraging a no vote.

“I would just talk about the flaws and let people make their own decisions on how to vote,” Birnbaum said.

That’s where the PAC comes in.

“The PAC will be the only vehicle that will actually go out and work toward a ‘no’ vote,” Birnbaum said.

One note on the PAC name: There is conflicting research on whether Medicaid recipients work. In a recent Idaho Freedom Foundation column, president Wayne Hoffman cited a report by the Foundation for Government Accountability says more than half of Medicaid expansion recipients nationwide don’t work. But according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, many adults in the so-called Medicaid gap do, in fact, work.

Currently, Idaho largely restricts its Medicaid program to children in poor families, people with disabilities, poor seniors and patients with certain specific health conditions. While examining a proposed Medicaid work requirement at the Legislature this year, state health officials estimated just 700 adults who didn’t already work would be affected.

So far, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has been the most prominent group opposed to Medicaid expansion, though other individuals, like House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude, have also spoken out publicly against Proposition 2. And in late June, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Janice McGeachin successfully sponsored an amendment to formally oppose Medicaid expansion at the GOP’s state party convention.

But other Republicans have publicly supported Proposition 2, including House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, and former congressional candidate Christy Perry. Perry is co-chair of the Medicaid expansion campaign.

The Work, Not Obamacare PAC won’t be the first infusion of cash into this campaign. In May, the Fairness Project reported spending nearly half a million dollars in its efforts to support signature-gathering to get Medicaid expansion on the November ballot.

In October, Idaho Reports will air an hourlong special on Medicaid expansion and the potential effects on health care in Idaho. Keep an eye out for details.

Statesman staff contributed.
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