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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Otter Administration floats plan to address health coverage gap without expanding Medicaid

The Otter Administration is proposing a state-funded partial alternative to Medicaid expansion that could deliver basic primary care for 78,000 Idahoans who now have little or no access to health care coverage, Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer reported over the weekend, at a cost to the state of $30 million a year, part of which could be funded by a cigarette tax increse. That’s compared to potential savings of $173 million over 10 years if Idaho expanded its Medicaid program and accepted federal funds to cover the vast majority of the costs, but Idaho lawmakers leery of Obamacare have been unwilling to go that route thus far.

The state-funded plan, outlined by Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer in a Sunday story here, would be free both from federal strings and any federal aid. It would cover basic preventive health care for people in the state’s coverage gap – those who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidized health insurance plans through the state’s insurance exchange.

Emergency room visits, acute care, hospitalizations and prescriptions would not be covered, Dentzer reports, and the state would continue its existing reliance on county indigent funds and the state catastrophic fund to pay for crisis care.

“I think it’s an excellent first step. I think it’s an Idaho solution,” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a retired physician, told the Statesman. “I don’t view this necessarily as a substitute for (Medicaid expansion). I view it as now Idaho is making an attempt to take care of the indigent population for which we have an obligation, and we’re doing it with a solution that we think that we can afford.”

Possible funding could come through higher tobacco taxes, Dentzer reports; Idaho’s cigarette tax of 57 cents per pack is among the lowest in the nation. You can read his full report here.

Meanwhile, William Moran, head of an initiative drive that’s seeking to raise Idaho’s cigarette tax to lower state college and university tuition, sent out a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers saying the state can do both: Enact the Otter Administration’s health coverage proposal, and pass the “College, Not Cancer” initiative. Moran writes that Otter’s plan would reportedly double the state’s cigarette tax to raise $20 million a year for the health initiative; the initiative he’s helping champion would raise it $1.50 per pack to lower college tuition; you can read his article here.

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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