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Idaho lawmakers consider options on health care coverage

Anti-Medicaid expansion advocates are warning Idaho lawmakers that expanding the federal health care program designed to cover the poor will end up costing the state millions and do little to drive down medical fees.

Instead, those advocates on Sept. 28 urged the small legislative group tasked with reviewing Idaho’s so-called Medicaid gap to consider supporting more charity care and finding jobs for the unemployed.

“There are jobs out there and that’s the solution,” said Gregg Pfister with the conservative think tank Foundation for Government Accountability. “To give people welfare, and to move them onto that dependency, is not compassionate.”

Supporters of Medicaid expansion counter that Idaho should take advantage of the federal government’s offer to cover nearly the entire cost of expansion. Doing so would provide care to the estimated 78,000 Idahoans who don’t qualify for Medicaid or make too much to for a subsidy.

Yet critics maintain that accepting federal dollars is unsustainable in light of the nation’s growing debt — a favorite argument often repeated inside the Republican-dominated Statehouse.

Furthermore, the states that have expanded Medicaid have faced unexpected enrollments and rising costs, said Dr. John Livingston, an adviser to the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a free market advocacy group.

For example, enrollment in Arkansas’ hybrid Medicaid expansion is at more than 307,000, exceeding the 250,000 estimate state officials initially gave.

Nationwide, the costs are also higher for taxpayers. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services submitted a report to Congress earlier this year outlining the cost of expansion was $6,366 per person for 2015, about 49 percent higher than previously estimated.

An estimated 9 million to 10 million people are covered by the Medicaid expansion, and many of the remaining uninsured across the country would likely be eligible if their states followed step. On average, new Medicaid recipients are low-income adults.

Many of Idaho’s uninsured residents currently living in the Medicaid gap packed Tuesday’s meeting to give similar testimony given during this year’s legislative session. Just several months ago, multiple protests were held throughout the Capitol, while health officials told lawmakers that people will die if Idaho did nothing to address the gap.

Yet the 10-member taskforce has remained split on the best solution to submit to the Idaho Legislature in 2017. The group adjourned without making a decision and plans on meeting on Oct. 24.

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