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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Counties association votes overwhelmingly for plan to close health coverage gap

The Idaho Association of Counties, made up of elected county officials from throughout the state, voted overwhelmingly today to back the “Healthy Idaho” plan proposed by Gov. Butch Otter’s task force, which calls for addressing the health insurance coverage gap by accepting Medicaid expansion funds, but using them in part to purchase private insurance for a portion of the uncovered population rather than just expanding the federal-state Medicaid program. “There were only like two or three votes against it, out of the entire membership in the room,” said IAC Executive Director Dan Chadwick. Close to 175 elected county officials voted at the association’s annual conference, which wrapped up today in Boise.

Chadwick said the plan could erase much of the current $18 million to $22 million a year in property taxes that Idahoans pay for the county medical indigency program, which covers catastrophic medical costs after the fact for those with no other way to pay. That program also places liens on the patients’ homes and property to pay back the costs, though only a fraction is recovered. The state also kicks in millions each year for the program through the state Catastrophic Fund, which pays bills after they top $11,000 each.

Roughly 78,000 Idahoans make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance through the state health insurance exchange. Federal funding is available to expand Medicaid to cover that group, but thus far, Idaho lawmakers have refused to consider accepting the funds.

Stephen Weeg, board chairman for the YourHealthIdaho insurance exchange, wrote in a guest opinion published in Idaho newspapers earlier this month that 54,000 Idahoans from that gap group applied unsuccessfully to YourHealthIdaho last year for health insurance coverage; they were turned away because their incomes were too low. “Sadly, they were found to be poor to be helped and left uninsured,” he wrote. “Idaho can do better.”

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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