The House Health & Welfare Committee voted unanimously this morning to introduce legislation from its chairman, Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, to launch a new state Health Care Assistance Program, which would tap the state’s Millennium Fund for $10 million next year to provide primary care and limited prescription coverage to Idaho adults who fall into the state’s health care coverage gap.
“Because of the finite funds available, this program will only cover a limited subgroup of adults and is not comprehensive care,” Wood told the committee. The services would be for adults who earn less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, aren’t eligible for either Idaho’s Medicaid program or subsidized insurance through the state insurance exchange, and are uninsured. Wood said the program would be designed to “further the state’s goal” to move away from fee-for-service delivery of health care and to managed care. The legislation also provides spending authority for up to $500,000 next year in grants or charitable donations to the program.
Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, told Wood, “This is such an important thing for Idaho. I know there’s another bill out there to do something similar to this.” But he said he thought Wood’s bill would help “indigent people that are suffering,” and said, “I just am glad that this is coming about and we’re discussing it. For Idaho, we can do better, we can get primary care going.”
Currently, earnings from Idaho’s Millennium Fund, an endowment set up from proceeds of a nationwide tobacco settlement, go to various health-related programs each year, including tobacco cessation and prevention. This year’s distributions totaled $9.6 million; another $3 million went undistributed.
Wood’s proposal bears some similarities to Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed PCAP legislation (Primary Care Access Program) last year, which would have tapped $30 million in state general funds to provide primary care to the gap population, but has only one-third the funding.
Asked after this morning's committee meeting how the program would determine which of those who are eligible can enroll, Wood said, "Basically on a first-come, first-served basis. As I understand it, that's the way it's going to have to work."
He said the proposal would still leave roughly $6.2 million in Millennium Fund earnings to be distributed to other programs next year.
Wood said he's developing a list of co-sponsors; Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, who co-chaired a joint working group on the health coverage gap this year, will be the lead Senate sponsor, Wood said. "This is coming out of the working group," he said.
The measure hasn't yet been assigned a bill number, but it will receive one within the next day or two.