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In the world of social programs, Medicaid is one of the hardest to understand. It’s something of a catch-all program for low-income people, covering broad and divergent needs. Included are healthy children and adults with eligible dependent children, people with disabilities or special health needs, and the elderly. Eligibility is income-based and it varies according the category of qualification for the program.During the state’s 2011 fiscal year, more than three quarters of the funding allocated to the Department of Health and Welfare’s budget went to Medicaid. The program received about $1.55 billion in federal and state funding, with 74 percent of those dollars coming from the federal government.Enrollment in Idaho’s Medicaid program has grown substantially in recent years. The average monthly Medicaid enrollment was fairly stable between 2006 and 2008. It grew by about 3.5 percent. But in the last three years, the program’s enrollment has grown nearly 21 percent. Ballooning from about 185,000 in 2008 to 228,897 in 2012.

BYU-Idaho Won’t Accept Medicaid Anymore As Enrollment For Expansion Begins

BYU-Idaho's campus in Rexburg. The school will no longer allow students to use Medicaid as their primary form of insurance.

Brigham Young University-Idaho, the state’s largest private university, no longer counts Medicaid as an acceptable form of health insurance for full-time students who are required to have coverage while enrolled.

It’s unclear when BYU-ID announced the change in policy, but Idaho’s Medicaid plan had previously been an accepted form of coverage during the previous two academic years, according to student health plan handbooks.

Medicaid offers health coverage to pregnant women, the poor, children and the disabled.

Enrolled students at BYU-ID who don’t have their own insurance coverage are required to purchase the school’s student health plan.

This plan can be expensive. It costs a minimum of $81 per month for single students and up to $678 per month for married students with children.

“If you’ve been able to arrange to be at school in good standing and manage whatever problems you have that mean that you’re Medicaid eligible,” said Jill Horwitz, a vice dean and law professor at UCLA School of Law, “adding extra fees … could be the difference for being able to afford your life or not.”

BYU-ID updated a form students use to opt out of the school’s health plan this month, stating Medicaid would not qualify as an acceptable form of insurance. Open enrollment for Idaho’s Medicaid expansion began Nov. 1. 

Madison County, where the school is located, has the highest concentration of potential Medicaid expansion enrollees in the entire state, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Nearly 2,400 people could be eligible for coverage there out of an estimated 91,000 people statewide. About 38,000 people across Idaho have signed up for the program in the first week it was available.

Full coverage under Medicaid meets federal insurance plan standards set by the Affordable Care Act, while BYU-ID’s student health plan does not.

“It appears that the school is requiring its students as a condition of being a student to purchase something that has many of the hallmarks of health insurance, but really isn’t health insurance at all,” Horwitz said.

For example, the student health plan includes an annual cap on coverage of $370,000. Those limits, as well as lifetime coverage caps, were banned by the Affordable Care Act.

Horwitz said a significant auto accident or any kind of catastrophic event requiring lengthy hospital stays would quickly eat through that annual limit.

“If you’re counting on this insurance with good insurance level premiums, and you find at the end you can’t get the treatment you need, then you’re in real financial trouble,” she said.

The plan is administered by Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators, which was established by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It isn’t classified as an insurance company and it doesn’t have to comply with federal requirements.

The plan also excludes several scenarios that stood out to Horwitz. For example, a school shooting that seriously injures or kills more than 20 students enrolled in the plan wouldn’t be covered. The company would also be exempt from paying for any treatment related to a fire in student housing that affects the same amount of people.

“All of a sudden, this insurance won’t pay for burn treatment and that strikes me as not a particularly valuable product to have,” she said.

BYU-ID refused to respond to multiple requests for comment for this story. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is affiliated with the schools, referred questions to the university.

BYU’s main campus in Provo, Utah, still accepts Medicaid as a valid form of insurance for enrollment, according to a school spokesman.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!