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Medicaid buy-in clears House committee unanimously

It’s been 10 years in the works, but a Medicaid buy-in bill, HB 664, just passed the House Health & Welfare Committee on a unanimous vote. The bill would allow disabled people to keep their Medicaid coverage when they go to work or increase their hours or pay, by letting them pay premiums on a sliding scale. Until now, many disabled Idahoans were discouraged from working or increasing hours or earnings for fear of losing the very medical services that allow them to work.

A thrilled Rep. Kathie Garrett, R-Boise, a sponsor, said, “It came out unanimous – they understood that concept that in Idaho we value work, and this is a work opportunity program.” Kelly Buckland, director of the state Independent Living Council, also is sponsoring the bill, along with Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene.

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb’s moving testimony in favor of the bill may have pushed any doubting representatives into supporting it. He recalled a friend who was injured in a hay-bale loading accident and paralyzed – and how much difference it made to him when a tractor was retrofitted so he could once again plow and disk his own fields. “We have a tendency to just look at the numbers, but overlook the faces behind the numbers,” Newcomb told the committee. Sure, the program will cost the state $233,900 next year and $397,200 in fiscal year 2008. “But you know what, that’s a small price to pay to give people the ability to live independently,” Newcomb said. “In my view … it’s the Christian thing to do.”

Medicaid buy-in passed the Senate last year, but failed to get a hearing in the House Health & Welfare Committee, so today’s unanimous vote was significant. “We’ve got a ways to go, but that’s obviously a great sign,” Buckland said.

A group of people in wheelchairs who sat through the committee hearing couldn’t contain a few shouts of “Yay!” as they rolled out of the hearing room. Bobby Ball, head of a small non-profit, said, “I haven’t taken a raise in about five years. … So I’m going to take the raise when this goes through, and I’m going to buy something real big for my grandbabies.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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