State Politics

A federal court ruling shook up Wednesday’s Idaho Senate hearing on Medicaid

Volunteers gather petition signatures to add Medicaid expansion onto the November ballot

Volunteers Laurie Durocher and Paula Davis, right, gather signatures from registered voters in a Nampa neighborhood Saturday, April 7, 2018. They are looking for people in support of adding a Medicaid expansion initiative onto the November ballot.
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Volunteers Laurie Durocher and Paula Davis, right, gather signatures from registered voters in a Nampa neighborhood Saturday, April 7, 2018. They are looking for people in support of adding a Medicaid expansion initiative onto the November ballot.

A federal court’s ruling on Medicaid work requirements in other states threw Idaho lawmakers for a loop — coming in the middle of a hearing Wednesday afternoon on that very topic.

As a result, an Idaho Senate committee rejected a House bill that would have implemented work requirements here.

Sponsored by Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, Idaho House Bill 277 adds “sideboards” to the voter-approved Medicaid expansion. Vander Woude’s bill passed the House with support from most Republicans.

The bill requires low-income adults to work, volunteer or participate in job training as a condition of getting Medicaid. It carves out exemptions for several groups — parents, caregivers, people with disabilities, college students and others.

The Idaho Senate Health and Welfare Committee had just spent two hours hearing from people with opinions on the bill.

Then, the news broke.

“A federal judge blocked Medicaid work requirements in two states on Wednesday, dealing a blow to one of the Trump administration’s marquee efforts to push the poor toward self-sufficiency,” the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg in Washington, D.C., found that Medicaid work requirements for low-income people in Arkansas were “arbitrary and capricious because [they] did not address ... whether and how the project would implicate the ‘core’ objective of Medicaid: the provision of medical coverage to the needy.”

He had similar criticisms of Kentucky’s work requirements, which haven’t yet been implemented.

Back in Idaho, the Senate Committee was informed of the court ruling. Members started asking questions: What does this mean for Idaho? Are the work requirement rules in HB 277 similar to those in Arkansas and Kentucky’s laws? How similar?

After talking about the court’s ruling and the questions it raises for Idaho’s proposal, the committee voted 7-2 to hold the bill in committee.

The Senate has its own Medicaid “sideboards” bill that is still pending.

“We have to come up with a solution,” Vander Woude told AP after the vote. “That’s why we started this whole process. What the solution is going to look like, I don’t know.”

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Watchdog reporter Audrey Dutton joined the Statesman in 2011. Before that, she covered municipal finance policy in Washington, D.C., during the financial crisis. That gave her a fondness for stories about money and powerful institutions. Audrey grew up in Twin Falls.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.

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