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Eye On Boise

House panel backs bipartisan bill to restore non-emergency dental coverage to Medicaid patients

The House Health & Welfare Committee has voted 8-4 in favor of bipartisan legislation to restore non-emergency dental coverage to Medicaid patients who lost it in cutbacks imposed in 2011. “Not only will we alleviate a lot of human suffering by doing this, but I think we’re going to save a lot of money by doing this,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, who is sponsoring HB 465 with Reps. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon; Sue Chew, D-Boise; Christy Perry, R-Nampa; and Eric Redman, R-Athol. “I think this is a win-win all around,” Rubel said.

After the cuts were imposed in 2011, coverage was restored two years later to children and people with major disabilities, but not to others on Medicaid, largely very poor parents, many of whom have mental health issues. As a result, those patients are covered only for emergency extractions, and no other dental care. That’s led to increasing numbers of major infections and hospitalizations.

Representatives of numerous groups, from dentists to health advocates, spoke in favor of the bill.

Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, said, “I really do feel for these people, and I see that it can be a cost benefit. My concern is that it’s $4.3 million, which is state and federal tax money, and it’s still our taxpayer money. I would like to see a zero-sum gain on this. Since we’re going to allocate money for this, that it needs to come from somewhere else that it is less needed. I see from the testimony that this is a good use of the funds, but we’re taking it from taxpayers and that’s really a big deal to me, hard-working people too who love our country, and we’re increasing our dependency on the federal government. So I will be voting no.”

Redman said, “I feel we’re actually saving taxpayers money, I don’t think we’re taking from them. I think the end result is we’re actually saving taxpayers money, so that’s why I’ll be voting yes.”

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, the committee chairman, noted that he was here when the Legislature voted in 2010 to remove the benefit, and lawmakers were well aware that they were endangering the overall health of those who were denied it. “We did restore them two years later to the enhanced and the coordinated plan, but it still left a significant gap,” Wood said. “And it was with the best of intentions that the Legislature did say that we would look at that as soon as we recovered. Well, I think we’ve recovered now. The chair will be voting yes.”

The four “no” votes came from Blanksma and Reps. Hanks, VanderWoude and Zollinger. The bill now moves to the full House. To become law, it needs passage there and in the Senate and the governor’s signature.

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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