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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.

Medicaid Dental Bill Moves Ahead In Idaho Legislature

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A bill that would restore dental coverage to some Idaho Medicaid patients passed the House Health and Welfare Committee Tuesday.

Parents on Medicaid in Idaho had the non-emergency dental care until 2011 when lawmakers cut it to save money during the economic downturn. Since then, those patients can only get emergency dental extractions.

Now Democratic Representative Ilana Rubel of Boise is trying to bring the coverage back. She says serious health conditions can be caused by or made worse by lack of access to dental care. She says the state is on the financial hook when patients develop costly infections and other problems.

“Not only will we avert a lot of human suffering with this, but I think we’re going to save a lot of money by doing this. I think this is a win-win all around, for taxpayers and for the people affected,” says Rubel.

It would cost the state $1.24 million to restore dental care, but Rubel says Idaho would save $2.5 million in emergency dental and other costs.

GOP Rep. Megan Blanksma of Hammett says she feels for the people affected, but she’s worried about the cost to both state and federal taxpayers.

“We’re taking it from taxpayers and that’s really a big deal to me, hardworking people too, who love our country and we’re increasing our dependency on the federal government,” says Blanksma.

Blanksma voted no, along with three other committee members. The bill now moves to the House floor.

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

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