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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Rep. Perry gets Otter’s health-gap coverage bill revived for possible full House vote

In a surprise move Monday, an Idaho House committee revived Gov. Butch Otter’s “Idaho Health Care Plan” proposal and sent the dual-waiver measure to the full House for debate.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, who instigated the move, said she agonized over the weekend about how to help people in Idaho’s health coverage gap as this year’s Idaho legislative session winds down. “For six years, we have worked on trying to get coverage for those people in the gap,” she said. “I felt like today was probably my last chance to try to get a vote.”

Roughly 78,000 Idahoans fall into the gap, because they make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to be eligible for subsidized private insurance through the state insurance exchange. The bill would cover roughly half of those in the gap population by allowing them to qualify for the subsidies. Had Idaho expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, all 78,000 Idahoans in the gap would be covered through Medicaid, largely at federal expense.

To generate the savings to pay for the plan, the dual-waiver proposal calls for shifting roughly 2,800 of the sickest Idahoans now covered by exchange plans onto Medicaid, which would more fully cover their end-of-life care needs. That move is projected to sharply drop premiums for exchange plans, by removing the sickest portion of the covered population.

Perry’s motion passed on a 7-5 vote in the House Health and Welfare Committee, the same vote of approval it received last time, before the bill was pulled from the House floor and sent back to committee two weeks ago.

“I think a lot of voices were silenced on the issue,” said Perry, who is leaving the Legislature after this year to run for Congress. “I think debate on the floor is healthy, and I think we need to have a vote on the bill.”

“I think it’s very close,” Perry said. “I think you could have it a couple votes either way.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke was non-committal about the move. “This has all happened fairly quickly,” he said. “That committee has sent the bill back up. … This is certainly extraordinary that they would do that – maybe it’s not unprecedented.” Bedke said he wasn’t offering any opinion about the move at this point.

Moments after the House adjourned for lunch, House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley, came striding toward Gov. Butch Otter, who was outside the entrance to the Capitol cafeteria in a hallway on the lower level of the Capitol. “Your bill’s up on 2nd Reading tomorrow, so you’d better get the votes,” Wood told Otter, adding, “You said you had ‘em.”

Otter responded that he wouldn’t talk about the matter in front of two reporters who were standing nearby; the two then turned into the cafeteria together.

Bedke said last week that he believed the bill would die if it came up for a vote in the full House, and it was better to hold off until next year.

Perry said, “If it unfortunately dies, then it dies. I just think that the public deserves to have a vote. They have come here, they have spoken to legislators and the governor, they have held demonstrations – I don’t know what more they could possibly do. I think the issue has been around long enough.”

Perry noted that the Trump Administration has been sending favorable signs to Idaho about the dual-waiver plan, on which it would have to sign off.

“It’s very interesting, it’s innovative,” Perry said. “Let’s try the waiver, if the federal government will support it.”

Perry said for the past six years serving on the House Health and Welfare Committee, “Year after year, I’ve heard people come in and cry their hearts out.”