Idaho’s lone alternative to Medicaid expansion isn’t dead, but it may be on life support.
The estimated $30 million plan — pitched at the beginning of the legislation session by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter — would provide primary and preventative care to 78,000 Idahoans who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but also don’t qualify for health insurance subsidies.
However, finding consensus among the Legislature to not only sign off on the plan but also find the money for it has so far been futile.
One of the Legislature’s most conservative panels killed the first funding proposal earlier this week with the help of the Democratic members who would rather expand Medicaid eligibility to cover everyone who earns less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. This would allow the federal government to pick up the tab, but Republican lawmakers have opposed such efforts.
Legislative leaders met with Otter’s office days after the funding bill failed in the House State Affairs committee, but they were unable to come to an agreement on if and how the Republican governor’s Medicaid alternative should be funded.
“At this time, we’re re-evaluating,” House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley said.
Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Lee Heider of Twin Falls went even further, saying he was told the meeting did not go well.
“It’s not dead, but I don’t know what the plan is,” Heider said.
Yet, the turmoil over Otter’s plan has some lawmakers and stakeholders surprised that the possibility of Medicaid expansion could be in Idaho’s future.
House Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston said he doesn’t think Medicaid expansion will happen during this session because of the upcoming election, but he does expect it to gain better traction next year because of the progress made in recent weeks.
For the past few years, the Legislature has been staunchly focused on backfilling the public school budget after slashing dollars during the Great Recession. Now that the education budget has been mostly restored and overall state revenue has increased, lawmakers have more freedom to pursue other issues.
Last year, the Legislature worked on funneling more money to a transportation plan and boosting teacher pay.
This year? Lawmakers are willing to agree that 78,000 Idahoans caught in the so-called Medicaid gap need help, said Toni Lawson with the Idaho Hospital Association.
“The exciting thing is that we’re even having this conversation,” Lawson said. “If you had asked me at the beginning of the session if lawmakers would talk Medicaid expansion, I would say no. But now we’re seeing lawmakers want the best bang for their buck.”
The chances of passing Medicaid expansion in Idaho remain extremely slim. Otter recently told reporters that he’s yet to get enough votes for outright Medicaid expansion.
“We came up with this Idaho solution. If they want to push Medicaid expansion then they’re going to have to get a whole lot more encouragement than I’ve ever gotten for outright Medicaid expansion,” Otter said. “But have you noticed something? The question is no longer do we need to do something, it’s where are we going to get the money for it. That’s a great and important step forward that we have had since Obamacare fell on us.”