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Eye On Boise

‘Close the Gap’ group sees promise in Idaho Health Care Plan, concerns in executive order

Lauren Necochea of Close the Gap Idaho speaks at a Statehouse news conference on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, following Gov. Butch Otter's State of the State address. (Betsy Z. Russell)
Lauren Necochea of Close the Gap Idaho speaks at a Statehouse news conference on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, following Gov. Butch Otter's State of the State address. (Betsy Z. Russell)

Close the Gap Idaho, a broad coalition of health care stakeholders and advocates, had both praise and concerns about Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed Idaho Health Care Plan and health care executive order this afternoon, reacting to Otter’s comments in his State of the State message. “The Idaho Health Care Plan is a significant step in the right direction,” said Lauren Necochea, director of Idaho Voices for Children. “For years, Idahoans have been clamoring for a full solution to the coverage gap. This proposal could get a large number of Idahoans in the gap into coverage soon, improving economic security for Idaho families and reducing indigent care costs for our counties and our state.”

The plan calls for seeking two waivers from the federal government aimed at covering more Idahoans and lowering insurance costs in the state. Currently, an estimated 78,000 Idahoans fall into a coverage gap, making too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance coverage through the state insurance exchange.

Erin Bennett, government relations director for the Idaho Division of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, said, “While we applaud the effort to potentially provide access to coverage for 35,000 more Idahoans, we are still working toward a solution that includes affordable options for everyone currently in the coverage gap.”

And the advocates said the executive order, which would allow the sale in Idaho of health insurance plans that don’t fully meet all Obamacare requirements, raised concerns. “What happens to a patient if they discover that prescription drugs or certain cancer drugs they need are no longer covered?” asked Luke Cavener, Idaho government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. He noted, “Nobody plans, when they purchase a plan on the exchange, hey, I’m going to get cancer next year.”

The dual-waiver proposal, if implemented, would allow about 35,000 uninsured Idahoans to become eligible for subsidies to purchase health insurance. It also would move adults with certain serious, costly health conditions off the exchange and onto Medicaid, lowering costs for the exchange plans.

“The Idaho Health Care Plan is not a complete solution to the coverage gap, but it will allow Idaho to see some of the benefits, including savings in our indigent care system and reductions in health care premiums,” Necochea said.

Otter Administration officials have been working on the Idaho Health Care Plan for months, and the state Department of Health & Welfare has held public input hearings around the state on the waiver applications. The executive order was first announced by Otter and Lt. Gov. Brad Little on Friday at the AP Legislative Preview; the two said they plan to tour the state to acquaint Idahoans with the plan.

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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