BOISE — Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter announced a new $30 million program on Thursday that would provide coverage for basic medical care to nearly 78,000 Idahoans caught in a gap where they neither qualify for health insurance subsidies or Medicaid.
Otter told reporters at Associated Press Legislative Preview that he will ask Idaho lawmakers to approve the new plan during this year’s legislative session, which begins Monday.
The plan is a state-funded alternative rather than choosing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — an option the Republican-dominated Idaho Statehouse has rejected repeatedly. However, lawmakers have acknowledged for years that the state’s current system of caring for the indigent is broken.
“We haven’t had the political will. I have not seen the political will,” Otter said. “There’s always some resistance to starting a new program, to expanding a program, and especially a program that’s initiated by the federal government. I can understand that resistance”
According to the proposal, qualifying participants would be adults who currently have no access to affordable coverage and who fall below 100 percent of the federal poverty level.
They would be eligible to receive preventive primary medical care services such as acute care for illnesses, chronic condition management — like diabetes or asthma — and limited in-office behavioral health services. The program would not cover hospital stays, emergency room visits or specialty care.
“We believe this is an Idaho solution to try to provide for those folks in the gap,” Otter said. “Is it a total solution? I would be misleading you if I said it was.”
Providers would be paid $32 monthly for each enrolled participant.
Legislative leaders voiced support for the plan immediately following the Republican governor’s announcement but offered no promises it would pass.
House Minority Assistant Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said he was disappointed the state plan only partially addressed medical care needs. He added that Idahoans would end up paying more in the end because the state would not be using available federal funding to help cover the costs as provided through Medicaid expansion.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said the plan would receive full hearings in both chambers.
“It’s not lost on us that we’re dealing with people’s lives here. This is a real issue, and this is a serious issue,” said Hill. “We’ve gone 100 years without providing this service — we want to do it right. And this seems like a good step.”
The primary care plan was one of several topics Otter and legislative leaders discussed Thursday.
Lawmakers touched on K-12 education funding, public defense reform and water management all while stressing that they want to adjourn in 65 because it’s an election year.
One possible topic will be amending the state’s Human Rights Act to include protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual individuals by adding the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”
“I think we have some pretty good options to address it,” Hill said on adding the words. “But are both sides of the issue willing to address something to get up what they want? We have people on both sides that do not want to give anything to the other side.”
Meanwhile, Bedke said that he hasn’t seen any legislation that would allow Idahoans to carry concealed guns without a permit, but said he’s interested to see how and if the legislation moves through the Statehouse.