House and Senate Democrats held a news conference this afternoon to call for action this year on Idaho’s health coverage gap, in which 78,000 Idahoans make too much to qualify for the state’s Medicaid program, but not enough to be eligible to buy subsidized health insurance on the state insurance exchange. “Our plea today is we still have a week left,” said Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise.
She added, “When this Legislature decides to take action, they can do so very rapidly. We hope that they do respond to the very high level of public outcry for medical care.”
She and Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, said two bills remain pending in the current legislative session to address the coverage gap: Gov. Butch Otter’s Idaho Health Care Plan, HB 464, which would have provided coverage to about half the gap population through a dual-waiver request to the federal government; and Jordan’s own personal bill to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. The governor’s bill cleared a House committee, but was pulled from the House floor and sent back to committee without a vote. Jordan’s bill, SB 1224, would expand Medicaid to cover the gap population, largely at federal expense. It’s been introduced in the Senate, but hasn’t advanced.
“We are calling for either option at this point,” Jordan said. “Our call is to not let this session end yet again with no action on the gap population. Whichever of those can be discussed and debated and passed through this body, we are willing to have that conversation.”
The two lawmakers said Idaho will foot the bill for catastrophic care that’s needed by those in the gap regardless, through the state’s Catastrophic Health Care Fund, which has seen a big jump in cases this year. “It would be far more … fiscally sound if we address that on the front end” with health coverage, Rubel said, rather than covering catastrophic medical bills after the fact.
Jordan said, “The reality is, as we have heard from the federal government just in the last couple of weeks, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. So our charge as legislators is to function within that law, and to do what we need to do to help 78,000 Idahoans who fall within the gap.”