Idaho House trims Medicaid

Budget heads to Senate after intense debate

BOISE – Idaho’s health insurance program for the poor will have to squeeze providers for savings under a $1.55 billion budget passed narrowly by the House on Wednesday.

The 38-30 vote backed a 2011 Medicaid budget that’s 3.5 percent below this year’s state funding level, at a time when the number of public-assistance recipients is rising. About 80 percent of Medicaid now comes from the federal government, in a match of state funds.

In Idaho, there are more than 200,000 people, including 150,000 children, getting help from the program that provides health insurance for the poor and disabled.

The House vote on HB 701 came after intense debate. State Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, lead sponsor of the bill, said, “We find ourselves in truly extraordinary times, and I’m as uncomfortable with this budget as anybody in this room because I do know what it is going to do to some people.” But, he said, “Short of increasing taxes, there’s simply not anything that we’re going to do.”

State Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who like Wood is a physician, said, “Almost all the people we serve in Medicaid are either children, adults in nursing homes or assisted living that are poor, or are disabled. They’re going to have trouble.”

The budget cuts $22 million in state funds out of Medicaid, which means Idaho will lose $90 million in federal matching funds, for a total impact of more than $100 million in cutbacks.

House Health and Welfare Chairwoman Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls, said, “This budget is needed to help balance the state budget.”

The House also voted 45-23 in favor of HB 702, which sets an additional piece of the Department of Health and Welfare budget that includes deep cuts including elimination of the adult cystic fibrosis program.

State Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, introduced a 27-year-old woman who sat in the House gallery and who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

“I don’t see how we in this state can look people that have this condition in the eye and say, ‘You’re on your own, figure it out,’ ” he said.

Both budget bills now head to the Senate.

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