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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Counties back closing coverage gap

Oct. 3, 2015 Updated Sat., Oct. 3, 2015 at 11:40 p.m.

Betsy Z. Russell (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Betsy Z. Russell (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The Idaho Association of Counties, made up of elected county officials from throughout the state, has voted overwhelmingly to back the “Healthy Idaho” plan proposed by Gov. Butch Otter’s task force.

The idea calls for addressing the health insurance coverage gap by accepting millions in federal Medicaid expansion funds but using them, in part, to purchase private insurance for a portion of the uncovered population rather than just expanding the federal-state Medicaid program.

“There were only like two or three votes against it, out of the entire membership in the room,” said IAC Executive Director Dan Chadwick. Close to 175 elected county officials voted at the association’s annual conference, which took place this week in Boise.

Chadwick said the plan could erase much of the current $18 million to $22 million a year in property taxes that Idahoans pay for the county medical indigency program, which covers catastrophic medical costs after the fact for those with no other way to pay. That program also places liens on the patients’ homes and property to pay back the costs, though only a fraction is recovered. The state also kicks in millions each year for the program through the state Catastrophic Fund, which pays bills after they top $11,000 each.

Roughly 78,000 Idahoans make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for subsidized insurance through the state health insurance exchange. Federal funding is available to expand Medicaid to cover that group, but thus far, Idaho lawmakers have refused to consider accepting the funds.

Stephen Weeg, board chairman for the YourHealthIdaho insurance exchange, wrote in a guest opinion sent to Idaho newspapers in September that 54,000 Idahoans from that gap group applied unsuccessfully to YourHealthIdaho last year for health insurance coverage; they were turned away because their incomes were too low. “Sadly, they were found to be too poor to be helped and left uninsured,” he wrote. “Idaho can do better.”

GOP hopefuls

look to Idahoans

The latest GOP presidential hopeful to turn his attention to Idaho is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has named Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf his Idaho campaign chairman. Woolf was elected to a four-year term as state controller in 2014; he was appointed to succeed former Controller Donna Jones in 2012 after serving as her chief deputy.

Rubio has been named by Idaho GOP mega-donor Frank VanderSloot of Idaho Falls as part of his short list of favored candidates; both VanderSloot and Woolf are members of the LDS Church, an influential force in GOP politics in several Western states, including Idaho. Rubio is Catholic but has ties to the Mormon church, having converted with his family at the age of 8 when they lived in Las Vegas, before returning to the Catholic church at age 13. Politico reported last week that Rubio’s family still has strong ties to the LDS Church in Nevada.

Woolf said in a statement, “American citizens want a leader who will restore our nation’s greatness globally and domestically. Marco Rubio is that leader, and he has a bold, conservative vision for a new American century. I’m proud to endorse Marco for president and I look forward to helping him win in Idaho.”

A week earlier, the John Kasich presidential campaign named Idaho Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, as its Idaho campaign co-chairman. Hagedorn is a second-term state senator who served three terms in the House and is retired from the U.S. Navy. Kasich, the governor of Ohio, visited the Idaho Capitol in January as part of a six-state stump tour pushing for state legislatures to consider joining Ohio in calling for a constitutional convention to enact a balanced budget amendment. During that visit, he held a Statehouse news conference at which he was joined by half a dozen Idaho GOP lawmakers, including Hagedorn and members of Idaho’s GOP legislative leadership.

Idaho already has another prominent politician working on the campaign of yet another GOP candidate: 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador is the Western states co-chairman for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, and has traveled with him on campaign swings in Idaho and around the West.

Tax discussions

open up for review

In advance of the next meeting of the Idaho Legislature’s Tax Working Group on Tuesday, legislative staffers have posted online all of the tables and reports the group has been presented thus far, including scenarios for various possible reforms of Idaho’s income tax system.

They include shifting to a model more like Utah’s modified flat tax, which has a single 5 percent tax rate but provides credits based on income levels. Idaho’s rates now range from 1.6 percent to 7.4 percent.

Possible reforms also include flattening Idaho’s current graduated rates while limiting increases for any taxpayer to 10 percent or 15 percent, which would mean top earners would get substantial tax cuts, while those in the middle would see small increases. Some of those proposals are designed to be “revenue neutral,” meaning they’d still collect the same total amount of individual income taxes. Simply shifting Idaho’s tax system to the Utah method – which would require substantial changes in how taxes are calculated, while imposing a single 5 percent rate – would reduce Idaho’s individual income tax collections by roughly $59.3 million a year.

No decisions have been made on whether or how to change Idaho’s system. Tuesday’s meeting will be streamed live online. For more information, go to www.legislature., and look under interim committees and task forces.

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