BOISE — The rank and file of the Idaho Legislature's Republican supermajority apparently opposes an expansion of the federal Medicaid insurance program within Idaho, state GOP legislative leaders said Thursday.
Idaho Democratic leaders meanwhile — at a press conference previewing the Monday start of the Legislature's 2015 session — said they favored Medicaid expansion.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, termed Medicaid expansion“a no-brainer” that Idaho should implement.
Proponents of Medicaid expansion have said it would tap into greater federal funding and save Idaho taxpayers money on health care expenses for many low-income Idahoans.
“I've said repeatedly that it's a no-brainer, and it still is,” said Rusche, a retired physician, referring to possible Medicaid expansion in the Gem State. “We have probably 400, or plus, preventable deaths a year in the uncovered (with Medicaid) population. We're spending 90-plus million dollars that Idaho citizens don't need to spend to pay for the bills for those that do get care. And, the burden is falling on those least able to support it.”
But Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, correlated the “political realities” of potentially expanding Medicaid in GOP-dominated Idaho with the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act — the centerpiece law of Democratic President Barack Obama's administration.
“The problem is, we've gotta deal with the political realities here,” Hill said. “And, every argument that Rep. Rusche made, or that anybody in this room can make, in favor of expanding Medicaid, are arguments that were made to pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place. And, yet, I don't know a single Republican in the Idaho Legislature who would right now support, you know, vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act.”
Expressing a view similar to that of Hill was Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, an Oakley Republican.
“There are not the votes to move that issue, from my perspective, and I can count, usually,” Bedke said.
Idaho Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter hinted to reporters on Thursday that he would speak during his Monday State of the State address about the Medicaid expansion issue. Without detail, Otter touted the report results of a state task force on Medicaid expansion.
“That report's got a lot of stuff in it — good stuff — and I say again, actionable items,”Otter said.
The governor said he would“encourage keeping my promise” made to the 2011 Legislature that he “would not make a unilateral decision on either the (state) insurance exchange or Medicaid expansion.”
Bedke said people should contact state legislators about the Medicaid expansion issue if they think that Medicaid should be expanded.
“To those that feel that that's (not expanding Medicaid) wrongheaded or in the wrong direction, then they've got to go to these legislators and they've got to explain why the position that they've taken, or seemingly have taken, is wrong, and why another alternative would be better,”Bedke said.
Hill said the federal government “keeps changing things,”regarding the Affordable Care Act.
Said Hill: “I mean, I passed a bill a couple of years ago to help (Rexburg-based) BYU-Idaho and some other schools sell funding of insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and then a year later the federal government comes along and says ‘That's not what we meant.’ You know?”
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, however, asserted that Idaho should implement either “outright Medicaid expansion” or a “blended” program redesign.
“I'm a proponent of doing something,” said Stennett, who said that 78,000 Idahoans, including 10,000 military veterans don't have basic health insurance coverage.
Stennett added: “I never have the votes to try to get something that I think is good policy done, and I still think it's the right thing to do.”