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News >  ID Government

Otter’s health coverage gap bill pulled

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 27, 2018

Idaho state Capitol in Boise (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
Idaho state Capitol in Boise (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

Gov. Butch Otter’s dual-waiver Idaho Health Care Plan was pulled from the Idaho House on Tuesday without a vote and sent back to committee, a dramatic defeat for Otter and others who have pushed for five years to close the state’s health coverage gap.

House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, told the House, “I think we all know what’s going on here. At this point in time the votes aren’t there to pass the bill.”

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, countered, “How can we know the votes aren’t there unless we take a vote? I know that my entire caucus is there.”

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said, “We’re awfully close – this thing could pass. This is of grave importance to many, many people across Idaho who’ve waited for this. They deserve an up-or-down vote. … There are many thousands of lives hanging in the balance. I think it’s a serious abdication of responsibility to shut this down.”

The bill would allow about half of the 78,000 Idahoans who now fall into a coverage gap to qualify for subsidized insurance through the state insurance exchange, while also moving 2,500 to 3,500 of the sickest Idahoans off of exchange plans and into Medicaid, to create the savings to pay for the plan.

The bill, HB 464, cleared the House Health & Welfare Committee on a 7-5 vote on Feb. 7 after extensive hearings; it’s been hanging on the House’s 3rd Reading Calendar ever since, as GOP legislative leaders tried to drum up the votes for it among their caucus.

Idaho has its coverage gap because it hasn’t expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which it could have done largely at federal expense. State lawmakers have steadfastly refused to take that step out of scorn for the ACA.

The thousands who fall into the gap don’t make enough to qualify for subsidies to buy insurance through the state exchange – as do people who make more than them. The bill targeted only those who make 100 percent or less than the federal poverty level, to allow them to qualify for the same subsidies as those who earn slightly more. An estimated 35,000 people now in the gap would have qualified.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said, “Every year we have people come in and cry,” and tell lawmakers they’ve had a family member die for lack of something as simple as asthma medication. “I do believe after six years of work, that those people and the state of Idaho deserve a vote on this bill,” she said.

Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, agreed. “At least 95 of the 105 legislators have what I call the Rolls-Royce (health insurance) plan, and yet, we’re not willing to help the 100 percent and below poverty,” he said. Idaho’s part-time state legislators are covered under the state employee health insurance plan, just like full-time state employees.

Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, said she supported returning the bill to committee, and believed it would amount to an expansion of Medicaid. “I know that there are people with needs – the Medicaid we have is serving those people,” she said.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, asked Wood if his plan was to return the bill to committee until after the candidate filing period for state legislative seats has closed; House Speaker Scott Bedke ruled her question out of order.

Wood said, “I know that there’s a lot of people disappointed – there’s none more disappointed than the chairman.” But, he said, “This is not my bill.” It’s Otter’s bill, he said. And after consultations this morning between Otter and Bedke, the decision was made to pull the bill back to committee.

“I know this is difficult – I know this has been put off for five years,” Wood said. “I know that 75 percent of the people of Idaho feel that this Legislature should do something for the gap population.”

Wood’s motion to send the bill back to the House Health and Welfare Committee passed on a 53-15 vote. “No” votes came from every House Democrat, plus four House Republicans: Reps. Perry, Redman, Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, and Jarom Wagoner, R-Caldwell.

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