Idaho Dems urge weekend campaign on Medicaid expansion to save taxpayers $478 million

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck says Republicans in the Legislature are scared  to take up Medicaid expansion bills because they fear “blowback from their ‘return to the gold standard’ faction.”

With Friday’s hoped-for adjournment dashed by Wednesday’s Senate defeat of the K-12 budget, Kenck urges citizens to pressure lawmakers over the weekend to reconsider and agree to take up two bills that a state-commissioned study estimates would save property taxpayers $478 million over 10 years. The expansion would add federally subsidized health insurance for about 100,000 low-income Idahoans, lifting the burden from county taxpayers.

Delaying six months beyond Jan. 1, 2014, will cost taxpayers an estimated $41 million, according to Gov. Butch Otter’s Medicaid Expansion Workgroup.

“Tell them to do their jobs!” Kenck says in an op-ed submitted to Idaho newspapers. “Tell them to stop squandering opportunities and to stop making us pay for partisan political bickering. Tell them to expand Medicaid coverage—and then, after doing something good, tell them to go home.”

The two Medicaid measures, House Bill 308 and House Bill 309 have significant GOP support, including House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, and House Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Fred Wood, R-Burley.

But Wood told Loertscher this week that he won’t hold a hearing on the bills because Otter, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, all oppose action this year. Otter says the matter needs further study, although his workgroup, which includes Wood, urges immediate action.

This week, the workgroup wrote Otter, saying, “Our recommendation to you to expand Medicaid has not changed in direction, only in urgency. An independent actuarial analysis of the updated federal policies shows that optional Medicaid expansion will save the state more money than previously thought and that no expansion will cost the state more than previously thought.”

Kenck’s op-end follows:

IDP Chairman: GOP Won’t Deliver Savings to Homeowners; Health Care to Families

Boise, Idaho—How does half a billion dollars in savings to counties and homeowners sound? How about, at the same time, we get health care to 110,000 Idahoans who don’t have it?

That is exactly what Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers have tried to do in the Capitol this year. That is exactly what our state’s GOP leaders refuse to consider. The issue is Medicaid Expansion and the GOP fears blowback from their “return to the gold standard” faction.

But, what do GOP leaders tell the public as to why they won’t make this wise policy choice? Why will they allow Idaho families to suffer the indignity and despair of poor health care when a far more humane (not mention fiscally responsible) option exists?

“We are going to be done by Friday, and I don’t think we can give that issue the thorough public vetting that it needs between now and then,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the press. “They have my full attention, because it seems to offer very, very significant property tax relief.”

Good news!

GOP senators are just dysfunctional enough to smack down the $1.3 billion education budget at the 11th hour, giving most lawmakers nothing to do for another whole week. Now, they have plenty of time to take recommendations from months of study by a governor’s work group and take Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong’s word that he has the tools to make it all happen right away.

It’s not as if the GOP-controlled Legislature can’t make things happen fast if they care about something. Just last year they handed Idaho’s richest 17 percent of citizens a $35 million gift in the final days of the session.

Idaho Democratic lawmakers have pressed hard on this issue and repeatedly have been foiled by a GOP united against Idaho’s best interests.

It’s time for the GOP to stop playing the politics of appeasement to the radical-wing of their base. Businesses want this policy. Our state’s economy will benefit from this policy. Our federal taxes will remain the same even as we pay for other state’s that are wise enough to take advantage of this policy. Idaho’s children, who don’t have dental care or access to basic health services, absolutely need this policy.

My fellow Idahoans, it is up to us. Contact your legislators over the weekend. Tell them to do their jobs! Tell them to stop squandering opportunities and to stop making us pay for partisan political bickering. Tell them to expand Medicaid coverage—and then, after doing something good, tell them to go home.

 

 

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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