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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Medicaid cuts’ impact coming clear

BOISE – Idaho’s former state chief economist Mike Ferguson estimates that the $35 million in state funds cut from Medicaid this year – which with federal matching funds adds up to $100 million – had a direct impact of eliminating about 2,000 jobs in Idaho.

“Those dollars are no longer circulating in the economy,” he said. For economic impact, he said, “You can probably effectively double that. So basically we’ve taken probably somewhere equivalent to 4,000 jobs out by making those cuts.”

Ferguson’s analysis came during a roundtable discussion with advocates for people with disabilities, law enforcement and others over the impact of Medicaid cuts in Idaho. He noted that lawmakers set the state budget well below state economists’ forecasts for revenues, essentially leaving millions on the table and forcing the cuts when the funds actually were available.

Meanwhile, the Legislature’s joint budget committee heard a report from the Department of Health and Welfare that savings from the cuts are coming in on track, though not every cut has yielded the expected savings. Examples: Cutting non-emergency dental coverage for adults will meet or exceed the anticipated $1.7 million savings, but cutting podiatry and optometry services other than those needed for chronic care hasn’t yielded the anticipated $800,000 savings; enough people with chronic conditions need those services that there haven’t been savings.

Dick Armstrong, state Health and Welfare director, said there’s not yet been a rise in emergency dental issues at Idaho’s emergency rooms since non-emergency coverage was eliminated for adults, but added, “It may be too early.” That change took effect on July 1.

A reduction in psychosocial rehabilitation services by one hour per week is on track to save the anticipated $2.27 million or more; cuts in pharmacy reimbursements and adult developmental disabilities services also are saving the anticipated $2 million each or more. A plan to establish enforceable co-payments hasn’t yet yielded savings.

However, advocates say some of the cuts are having disastrous impacts on disabled and mentally ill Idahoans. Jim Baugh, executive director of Disability Rights Idaho, said the cuts were meant to balance the budget, but now that revenues have improved they should be restored.

“In a desperate move to address what we thought was a crisis in revenue, we have done terrible damage to that system of support,” Baugh said. “We need to make sure we take out of the statute these temporary, desperate changes in the service system.”

Idaho’s staffing for Medicaid has dropped by 8 percent since fiscal year 2009, though the number of people eligible has grown by 25 percent. No additional positions are requested for next year, and Gov. Butch Otter hasn’t recommended restoring any of the cuts.

No conflicting rallies this year

For the past two years, the traditional Martin Luther King Jr./Idaho Human Rights Day rally on the steps of the state Capitol has had to be moved because the Idaho Freedom Foundation scooted in early and reserved the steps for a tea party rally. That didn’t happen this year.

Asked why not, Freedom Foundation head Wayne Hoffman said, “I think the tea party group has gone from doing rallies to doing a lot more public policy-type work,” including getting involved with legislation. Said Hoffman, “I asked ’em if they wanted us to help put together another event, and they said, ‘No, we’d rather do this other stuff instead.’ ”

Tiny town ‘Capital for a Day’

Next Friday, Gov. Otter will bring a bevy of top state officials to tiny Murphy, Idaho – population 97 – for his 51st “Capital for a Day” event. “Murphy is one of America’s smallest county seats, but Owyhee County is one of Idaho’s largest counties, as well as being one of the most rural, remote and rugged,” Otter said. “Any community that can serve as county seat to such a proudly independent and self-reliant bunch has a lot to teach the rest of us.”

Online course rule

The House and Senate education committees have approved the State Board of Education’s new rule requiring two online courses for graduation from high school in Idaho, but with a caveat: The board will be asked to remove a requirement that one of the two classes be “asynchronous,” which means the course is delivered entirely online and teachers and students participate on their own schedules. That requirement drew opposition from school boards, school administrators and Idaho school districts.

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