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Eye On Boise

Medicaid buy-in clears House committee unanimously

It’s been 10 years in the works, but a Medicaid buy-in bill, HB 664, just passed the House Health & Welfare Committee on a unanimous vote. The bill would allow disabled people to keep their Medicaid coverage when they go to work or increase their hours or pay, by letting them pay premiums on a sliding scale. Until now, many disabled Idahoans were discouraged from working or increasing hours or earnings for fear of losing the very medical services that allow them to work.

A thrilled Rep. Kathie Garrett, R-Boise, a sponsor, said, “It came out unanimous – they understood that concept that in Idaho we value work, and this is a work opportunity program.” Kelly Buckland, director of the state Independent Living Council, also is sponsoring the bill, along with Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene.

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb’s moving testimony in favor of the bill may have pushed any doubting representatives into supporting it. He recalled a friend who was injured in a hay-bale loading accident and paralyzed – and how much difference it made to him when a tractor was retrofitted so he could once again plow and disk his own fields. “We have a tendency to just look at the numbers, but overlook the faces behind the numbers,” Newcomb told the committee. Sure, the program will cost the state $233,900 next year and $397,200 in fiscal year 2008. “But you know what, that’s a small price to pay to give people the ability to live independently,” Newcomb said. “In my view … it’s the Christian thing to do.”

Medicaid buy-in passed the Senate last year, but failed to get a hearing in the House Health & Welfare Committee, so today’s unanimous vote was significant. “We’ve got a ways to go, but that’s obviously a great sign,” Buckland said.

A group of people in wheelchairs who sat through the committee hearing couldn’t contain a few shouts of “Yay!” as they rolled out of the hearing room. Bobby Ball, head of a small non-profit, said, “I haven’t taken a raise in about five years. … So I’m going to take the raise when this goes through, and I’m going to buy something real big for my grandbabies.”

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.