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Tuesday, March 26, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Eye on Boise: Dueling polls ask different questions

Dr. Kathleen Romito, M.D. hands a box full of signatures from Ada County to Kelly Goughnour, both of Boise, Idaho, on July 6, 2018, at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho. (Darin Oswald / AP)
Dr. Kathleen Romito, M.D. hands a box full of signatures from Ada County to Kelly Goughnour, both of Boise, Idaho, on July 6, 2018, at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise, Idaho. (Darin Oswald / AP)
Betsy Russell

Two competing, and very different, Idaho polls about Medicaid expansion were released last week, one from a Florida group, Opportunity Solutions Project, purporting to show strong support among Idahoans for attaching work requirements to voter-approved Medicaid expansion, and the other from Close the Gap Idaho, a coalition of Idaho organizations that supported Medicaid expansion, that purports to show the same level of strong support for the opposite – implementation of Medicaid expansion as it was passed by the voters.

Idaho voters approved Medicaid expansion in November with 60.6 percent support, after the state Legislature spent six years debating the move but never took action.

The Close the Gap poll was conducted Feb. 21-24 by GS Strategy Group, a Boise polling research firm, with a sample size of 500 likely voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38 percent. It showed 74.3 percent of respondents said “The legislature should implement the will of the people as passed by the voters,” while just 16.6 percent said “The legislature should change the law passed by the voters.”

A loaded question? How about this one, from the Florida group’s poll:

It asked: “Would you support or oppose requiring able-bodied, working-age adults to work, train or volunteer at least 20 hours per week in order to receive Medicaid benefits?” That group’s poll reported that 73 percent of respondents chose “support.”

“Results concluded that voters in Idaho support reforms that promote work and end the cycle of dependency,” the Florida group said. It is a 501(c)(4) advocacy group affiliated with the Foundation for Government Accountability, which says on its website it “seeks to improve lives by advocating for public policies based on the principles of free enterprise.”

The same organization, on Feb. 5, hired Idaho lobbyist John Foster of Kestrel West to lobby for it in Idaho both in the legislative and executive branches, according to Foster’s state lobbyist registration disclosure form. Asked about it, Foster declined to comment, saying only that everything was reported.

On Friday afternoon, the Florida group, based in Tallahassee, couldn’t be reached for comment. On its website, a link to the “complete poll” yielded only a three-page summary, already distributed around the Idaho Statehouse by Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, who’s been advocating for adding work requirements to Medicaid expansion. Legislation proposing that is expected to be introduced in a House committee on Monday morning.

A request to Close the Gap for its full poll yielded a 10-page report and a 113-page crosstabs book. Robert Jones, a partner with GS Strategy Group, said in a news release: “Idahoans, by wide margins and across political parties, oppose changes to Medicaid that was just passed by the voters. Seven out of 10 Idahoans oppose the idea of taking coverage away when an Idahoan experiences a job loss, cannot meet new work reporting requirements, or cannot navigate the bureaucracy.”

The Idaho poll also asked respondents whether they preferred a voluntary work promotion program for recipients of expanded Medicaid, or work requirements, and found that 67.1 percent favored work promotion, with just 22.1 percent favoring the work requirement. Work promotion has been discussed as a low-cost alternative to imposing work requirements, which other states, including Arkansas, have found to be costly and difficult to administer.

Here’s how that question was worded in the Close the Gap poll:

“Which of the following comes closer to your opinion? Idaho should create new reporting requirements which will make individuals prove they are working a certain number of hours or trying to find a job in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage, even if it costs Idaho taxpayers millions of dollars per year to track the paperwork,” or, “Idaho should create a program that connects individuals with job training and education assistance when they apply for Medicaid, which would cost much less than adding new requirements to Medicaid.”

Here’s another question from the Florida group’s poll: “Individuals receiving Medicaid sometimes become dependent, remaining on the programs for months or even years at a time. Do you support or oppose limiting the amount of time able-bodied adults may remain on Medicaid to 24 consecutive months in order to protect limited resources?”

The group reported that 57 percent said they supported that.

“It definitely matters how you ask the question,” Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler said. “With that kind of framing set-up, you’re kind of priming respondents to think about a certain thing. … That really does put a person in a particular mindset when they’re answering the question.”

Kettler said there can be nuance on the issue. But there’s one poll that has none of that framing: the November election. On the ballot, Idaho voters were asked this question:

“AN INITIATIVE TO PROVIDE THAT THE STATE SHALL AMEND ITS STATE PLAN TO EXPAND MEDICAID ELIGIBILITY TO CERTAIN PERSONS. Relating to Medicaid; amending Chapter 2, Title 56, Idaho Code, by the addition of a new Section 56-267, Idaho Code, to provide that the state shall amend its state plan to expand Medicaid eligibility to certain persons and to provide that the Department of Health and Welfare is required and authorized to take all actions necessary to implement the provisions of this section; and amending Section 56-262, Idaho Code, to provide a correct code reference. Shall the above-entitled measure proposed by Proposition Two be approved? What your vote will do: A YES vote would approve the proposed law to expand Medicaid eligibility in Idaho. A NO vote would make no change to Idaho’s current law.”

In that case, 60.6 percent of voters chose “yes.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state Capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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