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Idaho lawmakers struggle with health coverage solutions

A small, bipartisan group of Idaho lawmakers says the Republican-dominated Legislature must find a way to provide health care to the state’s low-income uninsured population in 2017.

However, the legislative panel fell short from backing a specific proposal during its final meeting on Nov. 22. Instead, lawmakers agreed on broad recommendations, such as urging a sunset provision if the Idaho Legislature does consider Medicaid expansion and promoting using general funds to help cover any new program costs.

Other recommendations include moving all Medicaid populations to managed care. The panel said any state-funded program should focus on providing primary and preventative care.

“I think our job now extends to going to the Legislature, our colleagues, and tell them of all the stuff that we talked about here,” said Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, co-chair of the 10-member panel.

Idaho Republican lawmakers have long refused to consider expanding Medicaid eligibility — as allowed under the Affordable Care Act — to the estimated 78,000 low-income Idahoans without health insurance. The primary argument against expansion is that accepting federal dollars only comes with regulatory burdens that do not help lower the growing costs of medical care.

Two prior working groups, tasked by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in 2012 and 2015, endorsed expanding Medicaid. Both proposals failed to make any headway in the Legislature.

This year, protesters lay funeral flowers outside the House and Senate chambers to symbolize the Idahoans who have died without health coverage. Yet lawmakers resisted agreeing on any sort of expansion compromise, instead ending the session by agreeing to study the issue once again under an interim committee.

That consistent Republican resistance has only intensified as President-elect Donald Trump and fellow congressional Republicans have promised to overhaul the 2010 law.

“In light of the election and the results, I think our options have changed,” said Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, who co-chaired the legislative panel. “I think we need to lean toward an Idaho solution.”

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