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Eye On Boise

Health care gap study group would consider all alternatives

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, asked why the legislative working group on Idaho’s “gap” population is entitled “Healthcare alternatives for citizens below 100 percent of poverty level.” “Since we don’t have a resolution, what exactly are you expecting for the scope of this?” he asked. “The title that you gave it ... already anticipates certain solutions. And so I just wanted to know what the scope is intended.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, responded, “I think that my intention is that we present this to the Legislative Council for, I guess, your information, technically, your blessing maybe. And an atta-boy, hopefully.”

Bedke first proposed the working group on the final day of this year’s legislative session, as the House voted along party-lines to kill a Senate-passed measure to begin looking at alternatives for the 78,000 Idahoans who currently fall into a coverage gap – they make too much to qualify for Idaho’s very limited Medicaid program, but not enough to qualify for subsidized health insurance through the state insurance exchange. Expanding Medicaid to include that gap group was originally part of the federal Affordable Care Act, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that’s optional for states; Idaho hasn’t taken action, so its Medicaid program still covers essentially only poor children and the disabled.

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said he proposed the name for the panel. “Those are my words, and I didn’t mean to limit the scope of that,” he said. “Basically it’s looking at how to approach the health care problem with those in the gap. Right now those over 100 percent are not in the gap,” though some alternatives could include others. “It didn’t mean to exclude that group there. They’ll be instructed as such,” Hill said. “They’re just to look at alternatives.”

Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, questioned why Senate Health & Welfare Chairman Lee Heider wasn’t named to the panel. “I would have loved to have him, but I’m working him elsewhere,” Hill responded. “It’s just a workload issue.”

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, “Historically, task force or working groups have not been ones that have come to Legislative Council,” unlike formal interim committees approved by legislative resolutions. “Are the speaker and pro-tem wanting to change that practice?” he asked.

“No, we’re not,” Hill responded. “So I’m not sure we even need a motion. We would like your input if you have some concerns, but I don’t think any action by this council is required or solicited.”

Rusche said he appreciated the public notice of the appointment of the panels. “I want to say thanks for bringing this to us and having it be public, because transparency in information is important. It is easily possible that you could have a working group formed and neither the public nor the other legislators would know about it. So I appreciate you bringing it forward.”

That’s kind of what happened last year, when the speaker and pro-tem convened a working group on tax policy, which gradually grew into a more formal, public committee after holding several meetings. Bedke asked if there was any further discussion, then said, “Hearing none, then you’re all informed of the intentions of the speaker and the pro-tem.”

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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