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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Labrador equates Otter’s failed Idaho Health Care Plan with ‘Medicaid expansion’

Idaho State Police officers order chanting protesters out of the House gallery on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, shortly before the House voted to send the governor’s health-gap coverage bill back to committee, without debating it or voting it up or down. House Speaker Scott Bedke, who banged his gavel after the protesters disrupted the House, watches from below as they leave. (Betsy Z. Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE – Oddly, GOP gubernatorial candidate Raul Labrador sent out a statement last week headlined, “Labrador praises conservatives in the Idaho Legislature for rejecting Medicaid expansion,” saying of the Idaho Health Care Plan bill that was sent back to committee from the House rather than debated and voted up or down on Wednesday, “There’s no question this proposal would have expanded Medicaid and made thousands of Idahoans dependent on the government for their healthcare.”

Labrador apparently is referring to the approximately 2,800 extremely ill Idahoans, with specific conditions, who the bill would make eligible for Medicaid in order to lower premiums for everyone else with private insurance plans on Idaho’s insurance exchange, where those dying patients now are covered. That would generate enough savings to enable about 35,000 Idahoans who now fall into a coverage gap to be eligible for subsidized private insurance plans on the exchange; the proposal would require two waivers from the federal government.

“Medicaid expansion” generally is the term for expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover the working poor. Idaho lawmakers have declined to take that step, though it would have covered all Idahoans in the gap through Medicaid largely at federal expense, a group now estimated at up to 62,000. A ballot initiative currently is pending in Idaho to do exactly that, expand Medicaid under the ACA.

Labrador’s statement says, “The Idaho Legislature was right to reject the Little-Otter administration’s attempt to expand Medicaid in Idaho. There’s no question this proposal would have expanded Medicaid and made thousands of Idahoans dependent on the government for their healthcare. States that have expanded Medicaid under Obamacare have enrolled more than twice as many able-bodied adults as they expected, leading to massive cost overruns and crippling these states’ ability to fully fund education, public safety, and other critical services for the truly needy.”

HB 464 wouldn’t have enrolled any “able-bodied adults” in Medicaid; just the 2,800 critically ill patients.

Labrador, currently Idaho’s 1st District congressman, is facing Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Boise businessman and physician Tommy Ahlquist and several others in the May 15 GOP primary for governor; in the Democratic primary, hopefuls include Boise businessman and longtime school board member A.J. Balukoff and former state Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer.

Three years to the day…

Post Falls Rep. Don Cheatham said he’d made a mistake when he voted against the North Idaho College budget in the House on Tuesday – he’d meant to vote yes, and said he supports NIC all the way. He’d been on the phone making an inquiry about the next bill at the time, and pushed the wrong button.

Bizarrely, the AP reports, exactly three years earlier, Cheatham cast another mistaken vote: He voted in favor of legislation to repeal authorization for slot machine-like “instant racing” betting terminals at horse racetracks, when he had intended to vote against it. “I had a senior moment,” Cheatham said then. “I was leaned back talking with another legislator when we took the vote and I said yes, when I intended to vote no.”

The budget bill for Idaho’s community colleges includes the expansion of NIC’s popular computer science degree program. It received just two “no” votes in the House, including Cheatham’s, and ended up passing with flying colors.

‘Biggest DUI reform since ‘97’

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is applauding the Idaho Senate’s passage last week of HB 551, which would require an ignition interlock device – something the driver blows into, and the car won’t start if the device detects alcohol on their breath – for first-time drunken driving offenders in Idaho and those who refuse a roadside alcohol test. Current law in Idaho requires the devices only for repeat offenders; 30 other states already have laws like HB 551, which requires use of the device for a year.

The bill passed the Senate on Monday on a 21-12 vote; it earlier passed the House, 55-14, and now is awaiting Gov. Butch Otter’s signature.

MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church said, “H 551 is the biggest DUI reform proposal to pass the Idaho legislature since 1997, when lawmakers enact the .08 percent law. MADD thanks Senator Burgoyne and Representative Wintrow for leading this lifesaving legislation through the Senate and House, and for all the votes in favor of stopping this preventable crime. We also cannot thank our partners at AAA Idaho enough for their tireless efforts pushing this lifesaving proposal.”

Matthew Conde, public and government affairs director for AAA Idaho, said, “Traffic safety is at the heart of AAA’s mission, and the number of impaired driving fatalities, injuries and crashes on Idaho roads is simply unacceptable. It has been a pleasure to work closely with MADD and other concerned stakeholders to advance legislation that we know can make a real difference. Ignition interlocks provide a measure of fairness and personal responsibility that keeps everyone safe. We don’t want a single empty chair at the family table due to a drunk driving crash.”

The national Centers for Disease Control estimates that all-offender ignition interlock laws like H 551 reduce drunk driving recidivism by 67 percent. The devices include cameras to ensure that someone else other than the offender isn’t the one blowing into it; and they also conduct rolling retests of the driver’s breath.

Offenders would have to pay for the devices themselves; a fee on offenders would help cover costs for those who couldn’t afford them. Among the states that already have similar laws are Idaho’s neighbors Utah, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Legislative limerick: An ode to Bell and Keough

Context: After the budget for the state Superintendent of Schools was unceremoniously killed on the House floor because it removed funding for the state’s early-reading assessment test, the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee reconvened last week, under its able co-chairs, Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who crafted the successful new budget motion and restored the funding. Both are retiring after this year. So:

The kids should all learn how to read

And budgeting too must proceed

Some may object

And carefully dissect

But at some point, someone’s got to lead.