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Friday, February 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Idaho senator will give up state-paid health insurance until Legislature provides coverage for others

Sen. Dan Schmidt speaks at a news conference outside the Idaho Senate chamber on Thursday (Betsy Z. Russell)
Sen. Dan Schmidt speaks at a news conference outside the Idaho Senate chamber on Thursday (Betsy Z. Russell)

Saying he wants to “nudge” Idaho lawmakers to do the right thing, Sen. Dan Schmidt said he’s giving up his state-paid health insurance because the state provides no health coverage for its working poor.

“I have state taxpayer-funded health insurance, because I am a state legislator,” said Schmidt, a Democrat and physician from Moscow. “I get that benefit, and this Legislature can’t give that benefit to 78,000 Idahoans who can’t afford it.”

Schmidt said expanding Idaho’s Medicaid program would cover that “gap” group. It’s a step that 32 states have taken under the Affordable Care Act, but one Idaho and 18 other states have resisted because of their dislike of the plan they call Obamacare. In Idaho, expanding Medicaid would save state taxpayers tens of millions of dollars without increasing the federal taxes they’re already paying.

The House Health and Welfare Committee announced Thursday that it will consider a new proposal to address the gap population on Monday.

The House committee voted to pull two proposed bills from its agenda and consider the issue again Monday. One would have launched a study committee; the other a “health care data collection grant program” to provide a block grant of, say, $5 million to Idaho’s community health centers next year to enhance services to people in the gap population and collect data on how many are out there.

Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, urged the committee, “Let’s quit throwing money at non-solutions, let’s quit studying this … (and) hopefully do the right thing on Monday.”

Schmidt said he and his wife don’t have any other medical coverage. He called the state plan he was giving up “very, very generous.”

“We’ll probably have to go buy (insurance),” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair that I get the taxpayers of Idaho to buy me health insurance, and we’re not willing to look at that problem for our other citizens who don’t have that benefit. To me, that’s something we should be doing.”

Schmidt introduced legislation this year to enact the “Healthy Idaho” plan, which was developed by a task force appointed by Gov. Butch Otter. It would accept millions in federal Medicaid expansion funds, and use them to cover more low-income residents, and to buy private insurance for those who have slightly higher incomes but still make too little to afford insurance. The bill got a hearing in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, but no vote.

“I’d love it if they’ve got some proposals that will solve this problem,” Schmidt added. “To me, our state has a problem – we have a lot of low-income folks working minimum-wage jobs, tough for them to get health insurance. We can solve this problem and save the taxpayer a bunch of money, and shame on us for not solving it.”

GOP members of the House committee said Thursday morning that they don’t want to let Idaho’s legislative session end without doing something for the Idahoans in the coverage gap.

“I think we all want to get something accomplished,” said Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol.

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