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Work Requirements Bill For Idaho Medicaid Expansion On Hold In Senate Panel

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

An Idaho Senate committee put up a roadblock for a bill that would adopt mandatory work requirements, among other restrictions, for the state’s voter-approved Medicaid expansion program amid uncertainty that they would hold up in court.

The 7-2 vote to hold the proposal in committee came shortly after the committee learned a federal judge had struck down work requirement programs in Arkansas and Kentucky.

It was the second time Kentucky’s work requirements for those enrolled under Medicaid expansion had been ruled unlawful in federal court. That’s because the ruling says those requirements would keep “a substantial number” of people from being insured.

That federal ruling may not spell the death knell for states that demand mandatory work programs, though.

“We will continue to defend our efforts to give states greater flexibility to help low-income Americans rise out of poverty,” Seema Verma, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a statement to Politico.

“We believe, as have numerous past administrations, that states are the laboratories of democracy and we will vigorously support their innovative, state-driven efforts to develop and test reforms that will advance the objectives of the Medicaid program,” Verma wrote to the news site.

It’s unclear whether officials in Arkansas or Kentucky will appeal the ruling.

Republican Rep. John Vander Woude (R-Nampa), who sponsors the bill, says he just wants to avoid Idaho having to pay more than it expects when it comes to Medicaid expansion.

“The intention of this bill was to try to at least get some control over the costs so we as a state don’t end up in those same situations,” Vander Woude says.

Another bill from Sen. Fred Martin (R-Boise) that’s expected to be amended in the Senate would implement a voluntary work training program.

But one possible change to Martin’s proposal could let those making between 100-138 percent of the federal poverty level buy subsidized health insurance from Idaho’s exchange instead of enrolling in Medicaid.

Vander Woude’s proposal would require them to buy their own insurance from the exchange with federal permission.

During the hearing, Sen. Mary Souza (R-Coeur d’Alene), who supports mandatory work requirements, brought up the reality of political horse trading as these delicate negotiations remain ongoing.

Souza tried, but failed, to send Vander Woude’s bill to the full Senate to be amended. If it passed there, she says it would be returned to the House for a straight up or down vote. The opposite could happen if Martin’s bill is amended in the House.

The House also has a big bargaining chip in its favor. Lawmakers there have repeatedly delayed taking up the $2.8 billion Medicaid budget for next year, which includes money for those enrolling under the expansion.

Gov. Brad Little (R) has said he would not let the legislature adjourn without coming up with some way to put “spring” in Idaho’s social safety net.

A spokesperson for Little didn’t immediately return a request for comment on whether his veto pen hinges on securing mandatory work requirements.

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

Copyright 2018 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!