Eye on Boise: More Russia hearings coming

Sen. Bob Corker, R-TN, and Mike Crapo, R-ID, both on the right, sit and speak during a committee hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday, Dec. 2009. The two senators have said they will hold more hearings on Russia. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced last week their committees will hold a series of hearings on Russia; the first was held in the Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, with testimony from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Crapo and Corker, in a joint statement, said, “We worked closely together to write the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,’ which substantially expanded sanctions on Russia and overwhelmingly passed both the Senate and House last summer, and are eager to continue the important work being done by our committees to push back on Russia.”

The two chairmen said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tasked them with holding hearings on the sanctions act and recommending additional steps. The Banking Committee plans to hold a classified briefing for its members with administration officials on Russia and sanctions. Additional hearings also will be scheduled in both panels in the coming weeks, Crapo and Corker said.

It was at and after last week’s foreign relations hearing that U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, parted ways with Corker, who had raised serious concerns about the president’s actions with regard to foreign policy. Risch instead praised President Donald Trump’s handling of Russia and North Korea and said he was “to be commended.”

Idaho Fish & Game

hails Risch bill

The Idaho Department of Fish & Game says bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate by Risch and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin would be a “game-changer” in Idaho, providing a significant new funding source for state fish and wildlife species conservation.

The measure, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, would redirect $1.3 billion a year from existing royalties from energy and mineral development on federal lands and waters to the Wildlife Conservation Restoration Program, which is an account under the existing Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Program.

In a news release, Idaho Fish & Game said the bill “could be the most important conservation legislation in a generation,” noting, “For more than 75 years, wildlife conservation in the U.S. has primarily been funded through fishing, hunting and trapping license fees, as well as excise taxes on hunting and fishing equipment.”

Rex Sallabanks, wildlife diversity manager for Idaho Fish and Game, said, “This funding will be a game-changer for the conservation and management of Idaho’s fish and wildlife.” It would allow the state to focus new efforts on conserving fish or wildlife species identified in a state plan as being in the greatest need of conservation “in order to prevent them from becoming listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.”

Risch, who is co-chair of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, said in a statement: “This legislation puts states back in control of conservation efforts and affords them greater flexibility to meet their state-specific needs, while also protecting the legacy of hunting and the value the industry brings to wildlife conservation. Additionally, by engaging in these proactive, voluntary conservation actions, we will save millions of tax dollars that are otherwise spent on restoring threatened and endangered species.”

Risch is the Senate bill’s lead sponsor; other co-sponsors include Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; and John Hoeven, R-N.D. A House version of the bill was introduced in February by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and has 80 co-sponsors, including 43 Democrats and 37 Republicans. Idaho 2nd District GOP Rep. Mike Simpson is a co-sponsor.

Deep dive into numbers

I took a deep dive into the dollars and numbers involved with Medicaid expansion in Idaho last week, examining the latest actuarial report commissioned by the state from Milliman, a leading actuarial consulting firm. Though I’m still spitting numbers from that deep dive, the results were fascinating: If Idaho expanded Medicaid, there could be big savings for state and local taxpayers, even if an estimated 91,000 Idahoans sign on to Medicaid – well beyond the current estimates of the 62,000 who fall into a coverage gap.

Milliman estimated that, depending on how the state handles some of its existing programs, the state could either cover those 91,000 new patients at a relatively small cost of $10.5 million a year, or $105.1 million over a decade – less than $117 per person per year; or it could save $150 million over 10 years while adding the coverage for those 91,000 additional patients.

I was contacted by Jeremy Engdahl-Johnson, director of media relations and public affairs for Milliman in New York, who took issue with my characterization of the 91,000 enrollment figure as assuming all who are eligible would enroll. Though that’s how it appeared to me from the report, Engdahl-Johnson said, “Milliman’s estimate assumes a subset of those newly eligible for the program will enroll, with take-up rates varying by segment based on variables such as age, income and gender. We expect the actual take-up rates for Idaho to be consistent with the experience in other states,” which he said range from 67 percent to 93 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That doesn’t change any of the numbers. It’s just how Milliman says it arrived at the 91,000 figure.

Engdahl-Johnson didn’t point to it, but there was this other line in the report that caught my eye and perhaps explains this particular point a bit: “Any user of this report should possess a certain level of expertise in actuarial science and healthcare modeling so as not to misinterpret the data presented.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise Bureau Chief for the Idaho Press-Tribune, and covers Boise and Idaho Capitol news. She can be reached at brussell@idahopress.com.