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Eye On Boise

Idaho Health Care Plan pulled from House floor, sent back to committee in dramatic defeat

Gov. Butch Otter’s dual-waiver “Idaho Health Care Plan” has been pulled off the House floor and sent back to committee, after House Health & Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “At this point in time the voters aren’t there to pass the bill.” You can read my full story here at

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, countered, “How can we know the votes aren’t there unless we take a vote? I know that my entire caucus is there.”

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said, “We’re awfully close – this thing could pass. This is of grave importance to many, many people across Idaho who’ve waited for this. They deserve an up-or-down vote. … There are many thousands of lives hanging in the balance. I think it’s a serious abdication of responsibility to shut this down.”

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said, “There is nothing particularly wrong with this bill. … Every year we have people come in and cry,” and tell lawmakers they’ve had a family member die for lack of something as simple as asthma medication. “I do believe after six years of work, that those people and the state of Idaho deserve a vote on this bill,” she said.

Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, agreed. “At least 95 of the 105 legislators have what I call the Rolls Royce (health insurance) plan, and yet we’re not willing to help the 100 percent and below poverty,” he said. Idaho's part-time state legislators are covered under the state employee health insurance plan, just like full-time state employees.

The bill, HB 464, would allow about half of the 78,000 Idahoans who now fall into a coverage gap to qualify for subsidized insurance through the state insurance exchange, while also moving 2,500 to 3,500 of the sickest Idahoans off of exchange plans and into Medicaid, to create the savings to pay for the plan.

HB 464 cleared the House Health & Welfare Committee on a 7-5 vote on Feb. 7 after extensive hearings; it’s been hanging on the House’s 3rd Reading Calendar ever since, as legislative leaders tried to drum up the votes for it.

Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, said she supported returning the bill to committee, and believed it would amount to an expansion of Medicaid. “I know that there are people with needs – the Medicaid we have is serving those people,” she said.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, asked Wood if his plan was to return the bill to committee until after the candidate filing period for state legislative seats has closed; House Speaker Scott Bedke ruled her question out of order.

Wood said, “I know that there’s a lot of people disappointed – there’s none more disappointed than the chairman.” But, he said, “This is not my bill.” It’s Gov. Butch Otter’s bill, he said. And after consultations this morning between Otter and Bedke, the decision was made to pull the bill back to committee.

“I know this is difficult – I know this has been put off for five years,” Wood said. “I know that 75 percent of the people of Idaho feel that this Legislature should do something for the gap population.”

Idaho has its coverage gap because it hasn’t expanded Medicaid, and under the Affordable Care Act, the thousands who fall into the gap don’t make enough to qualify for subsidies to buy insurance through the state exchange – as do people who make more than them. The bill targeted only those who make 100 percent or less than the federal poverty level, to allow them to qualify for the same subsidies as those who earn slightly more. Those 78,000 Idahoans would have qualified for Medicaid if Idaho had expanded its Medicaid program under the ACA, which it could have done largely at federal expense, but state lawmakers have steadfastly refused to take that step out of scorn for the ACA.

Wood’s motion to send the bill back to the House Health & Welfare Committee passed on a 53-15 vote. “No” votes came from every House Democrat, plus four House Republicans: Reps. Perry, Redman, Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, and Jarom Wagoner, R-Caldwell.

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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