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Public offers input on new plan to address Medicaid gap

Idaho’s top health officials are collecting input from residents across the state on their latest plan to provide health care to poor residents who do not have medical coverage.

The proposal calls for Idaho to apply for two federal waivers that would change how the state’s working poor can qualify for health insurance subsidies or Medicaid. Doing so would provide medical coverage to an estimated 38,000 Idahoans and slash premiums by up to 20 percent.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and the Idaho Department of Insurance have held public hearings in Pocatello, Boise and Coeur d’Alene on the proposal. So far, the agencies have received mostly positive feedback.

“This is the first time the public has had a chance to give us feedback about this,” said Health and Welfare spokesman Chris Smith. “This is us listening to the people of Idaho: What do they want? And then trying to take that and say, OK, what’s possible for us to do within the bounds that we have?”

However, the proposal hinges on approval from Idaho’s GOP-controlled Legislature — where members have repeatedly failed to sign off proposals addressing the estimated 78,000 Idahoans in the so-called Medicaid gap population..

Lawmakers would also have to allocate $22 million in state funding to partially match the $53 million in Medicaid dollars expected to cover the expanded population using the federal program. The Legislature convenes in January.

“All we have done so far is leave all the life boats on deck,” said Mindy Hong, former executive director of the Pocatello Free Clinic and a member of Close the Gap, at the Pocatello hearing. “Year after year people are drowning and suffering, and we leave the life boats on deck.”

According to plan, the state would need to send two waivers to the federal government for approval.

The first waiver would allow working adults to buy subsidized health insurance on the state’s health care exchange. The second waiver would allow the state’s sickest adults, like those with stage-4 cancers, to get insurance from Medicaid instead of the exchange.

Doing so would provide medical coverage to an estimated 38,000 Idahoans and cut premiums by up to 20 percent. That’s because childless adults who are below the federal poverty line currently do not qualify for Medicaid in Idaho, nor do they qualify for subsidized plans on Idaho’s health insurance marketplace exchange.

Furthermore, 2 percent of those sickest adults create roughly 40 percent of insurance claims. Advocates argue that removing those 2,500 people from the health exchange market to Medicaid would drive down health insurance premiums.

“Our fellow citizens with too much income to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford health insurance deserve to be covered,” said Muriel Roberts of the Pocatello League of Women Voters. ” Idaho can have its own excellent health care system.”

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