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Loertscher: ‘We have the opportunity to make a huge difference’

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, addresses the joint House and Senate Health & Welfare committees on Friday morning (Betsy Russell)
Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, addresses the joint House and Senate Health & Welfare committees on Friday morning (Betsy Russell)

The House and Senate Health & Welfare committees are assembled for a joint meeting this morning in the Lincoln Auditorium, to hear presentations on HB 308 and 309 – eliminating Idaho’s county indigent and state catastrophic care fund programs, and expanding its Medicaid program instead, largely at federal expense. The county and state programs are now funded 100 percent by local county property taxpayers and the state general fund; the Medicaid expansion would be funded 100 percent by federal funds for the first three years, then scaling down to 90 percent federal funds.

House Health & Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said this is an “informational hearing only – there will be no business conducted at this meeting today.”

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who served on the House Health & Welfare Committee for 24 years but got his start on the issue as a county commissioner in the 1970s, told the committees, “I’ve been around this for what seems to me as forever. … I believe it was about 1976 when the counties were put on the hook for medically indigent folks in the state. And at first, the numbers weren’t very big. … Very rapidly, though, as I took office in 1979, things began to escalate a lot.”

Loertscher said, “I don’t think that anyone is too enamored with the prospect of these escalating costs, these all being, of course, our taxpayers’ money.”

Doing away with the county/state indigency and CAT program would save Idaho property taxpayers $478 million over the next 10 years, Loertscher told the committees. “This is a program that was put on counties that’s just becoming unbearable. It’s consuming more and more of commissioners’ time as well as more employees to keep up with the demands.”  In addition, the latest estimates show the state, too, would save millions; here's a link to my story on the topic from September.

“We’re at kind of a crossroads right now, and we’ve got to make a decision about this,” Loertscher said. “I would be a strong advocate of repealing the counties’ indigent responsibilities. It is direct property tax relief.” He added, “It’s late in the session and I don’t like doing things in a hurry.” But, he said, “The iron is hot now, Mr. Chairman, and this is the time to strike it, because we have the opportunity now to make a huge difference. … If we don’t do that, we’re going to continue to see that stuff shoved back to the counties.”

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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