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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Editorial: Idaho rebuffs life-saving, cost-saving health care legislation

Saving lives and money won’t persuade them. Appeals from the medical community and clergy haven’t worked either.

Idaho legislators remain steadfast in their refusal to expand health care coverage to the “gap” population of Idaho, which is made up of about 78,000 people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for subsidized coverage in the state’s insurance exchange.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia chose the expanded Medicaid option available under the Affordable Care Act. Nineteen states, including Idaho, did not, even though the federal government initially covered 100 percent of the cost. That federal share will gradually decline until it reaches 90 percent. Still, a great deal that the Legislature won’t take.

Oddly, Idaho lawmakers decided to establish health care exchanges, which offer federal subsidies to help offset the cost of insurance. As a result, a family of four making about $31,600 annually qualifies for a tax credit of about $7,800, but a family of four making $24,000 gets no help, as Luke Cavener, the Idaho director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, pointed out in a guest column last weekend.

Why would the poorer family be denied care? Lawmakers didn’t explain as they refused to shake loose from committee a plan called “Healthy Idaho.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, sponsored two health care bills. One is a straight Medicaid expansion that would cover people up to 138 percent of the poverty level. County and state taxpayers would save $47 million a year.

Healthy Idaho is the second bill, which would cover nondisabled adults who earn up to 100 percent of the poverty level, and accept Medicaid expansion money to cover those between 100 and 138 percent of poverty by subsidizing their premiums for private plans. The hope was that this hybrid idea would draw more votes. Its estimated savings to state and county taxpayers is $28.4 million a year.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee held hearings in early February, and about 60 people signed up to testify, but only about a dozen got the opportunity. Hundreds of other people lined the halls.

At the hearing, a doctor told the senators that an estimated 1,000 people had died prematurely over the past three years because lawmakers refused to expand health care coverage. Only one person, from a libertarian organization, testified against expansion.

But the committee didn’t take action. On Monday, several religious leaders urged legislators to dislodge the Healthy Idaho bill from committee.

That attempt failed on a party-line vote. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis acknowledged that members of both parties were “sympathetic” to the principles in the bill, but he deferred to the committee.

“I frequently, with few exceptions, support the decisions and the recommendations of our committees, because the committee process works,” Davis said.

We don’t imagine the nearly 80,000 Idahoans in the coverage gap would agree.

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