The House and Senate Health & Welfare committees heard rather stunning figures from state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong and others this morning, including this one: A University of Idaho economist estimates that Idaho’s economy would get a $9.2 billion boost over the next 10 years if Idaho opted for Medicaid expansion this year. The state budget would save $649 million, county property taxpayers would save $478 million, and the new federal funds coming into the state would generate $614 million in new state tax revenues and economic activity. Subtract out program costs and the net savings to the state budget plus new revenues come to $699 million.
Lawmakers asked Armstrong if his department is ready to act, should the state decide to go that route. “We are ready to act on the eligibility side,” he said. “We’ve been working on that project through Medicaid eligibility for over a year.”
Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said, “I don’t see us tackling the cost portion of this.” Armstrong responded, “By putting in managed care and putting in accountable benefit design, it is our expectation that we’ll be able to control the rate of growth enough to actually be able to show a flattening of this as we go out.”
Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said, “Given that pressure of time, I’m going to propose a motion, that HB 309 be sent to the floor of the House with a recommendation from this committee for passage.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, responded, “Senator, my heart is with you, however I’m going to have to tell you I’m going to rule this motion out of order.” This morning’s meeting was “noticed up as an informational meeting only , and no testimony was taken,” Wood said. “We simply cannot conduct business when the public has not had an opportunity to weigh in. I understand your frustration. … Where you want to go, I want to go there too, but at this point in time, senator that motion is out of order.”
Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, asked, “Is it the intent of the chair to have a real working hearing on these bills?” Wood said, “Are you talking about in the next week?” and Rusche responded, “I’m talking about this year.” Wood said, “At this point in time, representative, a decision has not been made by the chair with respect to that.”
After the meeting, Schmidt said, “There has been a lot of effort put forward. … I think it's doable, and I think it's doable this year. It's just going to take some effort - and probably courage.”
Later in the day, House Speaker Scott Bedke offered an answer of his own. “I think it’s an important issue that the state needs to take a look at,” he said. “I think having those bills in the public domain over the interim can accomplish that. I am not going to get out ahead of the governor’s office on that issue. At first blush it appears there could be significant property tax relief to the whole state – not just personal property tax, but property tax for everybody. We oughta look at that.”
However, Bedke said, “We are going to be done by Friday, and I don’t think we can give that issue the thorough public vetting that it needs between now and then.” He added, “They have my full attention, because it seems to offer very, very significant property tax relief.”