Both Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, and Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, came away heartened from today’s first meeting of the Legislature’s interim working group on the state’s health coverage gap. The two are co-chairing the joint committee, which is charged with bringing solutions to the problem to the 2017 legislative session. “I’m hopeful,” Loertscher said. “The real problem we’ve had in the past looking at this is that nobody really understands what we’re talking about, so there’s a lot of misconceptions.”
Said Hagedorn, “It’s a complex problem, and it takes time to work through it.”
Loertscher said part of the goal should be to “change how we deliver Medicaid services, make the program work better.”
Both said they support a proposal that state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said he’ll be bringing to lawmakers next year, at the request of the state’s Justice Reinvestment project, to provide coverage for 5,600 recently released prison inmates, 80 percent of whom have diagnosable mental health or substance abuse problems, and who received treatment while in prison, but lose their coverage the moment they’re released. The proposal is for $10.5 million in state funds a year; it’s separate from Medicaid.
“Those 5,600 people are part of the gap population – the solution for that population is going to help us solve part of the problem,” Hagedorn said. “If we want to bring these people out of the prison population and make them productive in our neighborhoods – they’re going to be living next door to us – we’ve got to do more.”
Loertscher said if Idaho is going to bring down its prison population and cut its high rate of recidivism – repeat offenses – “we have got to address something that helps ‘em make the transition.”
But both he and Hagedorn said just approving that piece next year won’t be enough – and could lead to a backlash if Idaho lawmakers provide for the just-incarcerated portion of its health coverage gap, but not the rest of the population, from single mothers to low-wage workers. “I would envision this as being a package deal,” Loertscher said. “It would be foolhardy for the Legislature to not address the whole issue.”
Hagedorn agreed, saying, “This is like eating a raw egg. You’ve got to eat the whole thing; you can’t stop halfway through.”