Back in the 1980s, there was a brokerage firm called E.F. Hutton that had one of the better advertising slogans of the decade: “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.” Believe it or not, the same can be said of all of you when it comes to Medicaid Expansion — Idaho’s greatest legislative achievement in a generation. The credit for that does not reside at the State Capitol, but rather in the towns and cities all across Idaho where everyday Idahoans decided to take matters into their own hands. As a result, $400 million of our federal tax dollars will come home to Idaho, tens of thousands of our closest friends, family members and neighbors will receive health care, and thousands of jobs will be created.
You did that.
Because the ballot initiative is a constitutionally protected right in Idaho, the state Legislature had no choice but to listen to you on that issue. However, through rook and by crook, they attached so many restrictions to your law that its effectiveness is in jeopardy. While Gov. Brad Little signed the restrictions into law (with the enthusiasm of someone going to the dentist), that did not end the fight.
Your voice still counts.
Those restrictions, which range from paperwork requirements to family health care bans, are all subject to federal approval. You can submit comments on those restrictions. By law, state and federal regulators are required to listen to your objections. A federal judge who recently struck down work reporting requirements in Arkansas and Kentucky noted that public comments filed in opposition to the restrictions were essentially ignored by government officials. As a result, he denied the proposed restrictions to health care coverage in both states.
Your voice, by law, counts.
Idaho’s Legislature is leading us down a similar path as Arkansas and Kentucky. Idaho’s Legislature passed a flurry of health care restrictions this past session. The first restriction at issue is designed to steer close to 30,000 Idahoans earning between 100-138 percent of the federal poverty level into taxpayer-subsidized exchange plans. The thing is, those same people qualify for Medicaid Expansion. This restriction is being advertised as a “choice,” but is it really a bait-and-switch? This restriction raises several questions:
1. Will these working Idahoans be told they qualify for Medicaid Expansion and, if so, will they be given a side-by-side comparison of the pros and cons of each plan?
2. If they “choose” to go on taxpayer-subsidized plans, will they lose coverage if they miss a premium payment, even though they qualify for Medicaid Expansion?
3. Will these people learn that Medicaid Expansion coverage is far more comprehensive, much more reliable, and cheaper for the consumer?
4. Will they be told that subsidizing exchange-based plans cost taxpayers twice as much as shifting them onto Medicaid Expansion?
Idahoans had the opportunity to speak publicly on this issue in Boise and Lewiston this past week. Dozens of people showed up in both locations to voice their opposition, which certainly caught the attention of state officials. They are not used to packed hearing rooms, informed opinions, or the kind of citizen involvement we’ve seen in the last several months.
Your voice is not just being heard. It’s contributing to a public record that federal regulators — by law — must listen to.
Many of the most egregious restrictions to the law you passed will come up later this summer. In the meantime, you continue to make a difference at the state and federal levels. Although you created Idaho’s greatest legislative achievement in a generation, the fight is not over. Even though your elected state leaders sought to limit the scope of your accomplishment, they don’t have the final word.
If Medicaid Expansion was valuable enough to vote for, it is certainly valuable enough to defend. You may think your voice doesn’t count, but that’s simply not true. State and federal regulators are required by law to consider your opinions.
The 2019 legislative session may be over, but the fight to protect Medicaid Expansion is just underway. Don’t be silent when your voice counts for so much.
Rebecca Schroeder is the executive director of Reclaim Idaho.