Bill to expand Idaho Medicaid could keep conversation going, says senator

A Boise senator filed a personal bill Friday to expand Medicaid in Idaho, saying lawmakers need to keep that idea in mind even as they consider other options.

The bill from Democratic Sen. Maryanne Jordan was filed on the final day for personal bill introductions in the Senate. Personal bills don’t have to first clear a committee before they’re introduced.

“I did it because we are going to have substantive discussions this year on health care, and I think it’s important to continue to measure the cost of any new programs against the cost of a Medicaid expansion,” Jordan said. “That, and frankly it’s quite a demand from people in my district — they want to see it.”

Jordan noted that having been introduced as a personal bill, the measure will be assigned a bill number and will be on the record and available for the public to read on the Legislature’s website. “Sometimes when you’re in a minority position, it’s a tool you can use to advance a conversation,” she said. “I don’t have any illusions of it being passed, unfortunately.”

Idaho lawmakers have refused to expand Medicaid as states have the option to do under the Affordable Care Act. Thirty-two states plus the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid, meaning that working poor residents can get health coverage through Medicaid, largely at the federal government’s expense. Idaho’s decision not to expand Medicaid created a healthcare coverage gap in the state under the Affordable Care Act, as an estimated 78,000 Idahoans didn’t make enough money to qualify for subsidized insurance plans through the state insurance exchange, but made too much to qualify for Idaho’s limited Medicaid program.

Gov. Butch Otter this year is proposing that the state seek two waivers from the federal government to allow a portion of that gap population — about 35,000 Idahoans whose earnings fall below the federal poverty level — to qualify for exchange subsidies, and to shift 2,500 to 3,500 of the sickest patients now covered through the exchange to Medicaid to lower costs for exchange plans.

Separately, a citizens group is gathering signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot to expand Medicaid in Idaho.

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