State Politics

Idaho advocates press state to cover gap population while it can under national GOP plan

Dr. Magni Hamso, a primary care physician with Terry Reilly Health Services, speaks Thursday at a Close the Gap Idaho rally in the Capitol in favor of expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage to uninsured Idaho adults. “We have studied this enough and it’s time to close the coverage gap,” she said.
Dr. Magni Hamso, a primary care physician with Terry Reilly Health Services, speaks Thursday at a Close the Gap Idaho rally in the Capitol in favor of expanding Medicaid to provide health coverage to uninsured Idaho adults. “We have studied this enough and it’s time to close the coverage gap,” she said. bdentzer@idahostatesman.com

Close the Gap Idaho called a late-session rally Thursday to urge Idaho legislators to act on Medicaid expansion to help people without health insurance, arguing that the GOP-backed health care bill now advancing in Washington, D.C., has removed any remaining reason for Idaho to delay.

The GOP replacement to the 2010 Affordable Care Act would maintain Medicaid expansion through 2019 before curtailing any new enrollments. Expansion advocates say Idaho needs to act now to join 31 other states that expanded Medicaid, or the state risks losing out on federal dollars to cover the uninsured and working poor.

Under the Republican plan, states that do not expand will vie for a share of $10 billion set aside over five years to cover their uninsured populations. Each state would receive money based on its share of the total uninsured population in the non-expansion states, so more populous states would receive more.

Expanding Medicaid in Idaho would help an estimated 78,000 low-income adults who don’t qualify for regular Medicaid or for subsidized insurance on the state health insurance exchange. After nearly approving a plan to move toward expansion last year, lawmakers this year said they would wait to see what emerged from Washington on replacing the ACA.

That replacement plan was released Monday and is moving through Congress in spite of opposition from Republicans and from outside groups including AARP, the American Medical Association and other health and anti-tax organizations. Idaho’s all-Republican Congressional delegation has yet to fully weigh in on the bill, with Congressman Raul Labrador opposing it and the others uncommitted.

Whether or not the Republican plan passes, Idaho’s expansion advocates said there is no longer any doubt that Medicaid expansion will exist at least through 2019.

“Our Legislature was telling us that they weren’t going to act until they got a signal from Congress, and they got that signal from Congress,” Elizabeth Woodruff of Close the Gap said Thursday. “For the Legislature to continue to bite around the edges and say they that they’re going to use state funds to fund primary care, and they haven’t even identified what that funding source is going to be, shows that there’s a real opportunity that’s being missed.”

Woodruff was referring to a Senate bill heard in committee Thursday. The measure resurrects an earlier House bill that failed to win support in committee and was withdrawn by its sponsor.

The legislation seeks $10 million from the state’s tobacco settlement fund to cover limited health services and prescriptions for a portion of the uninsured population. It is a far more modest offering than what could be provided with Medicaid expansion dollars, and tobacco settlement dollars might not be available to fund it.

Expansion advocates turned up at the bill hearing before the Senate Health & Welfare committee Thursday, but were unable to testify given the committee’s time constraints.

The committee voted to send the bill to the Senate amending order for revisions on the Senate floor.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews

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