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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 Expansion Is Broadly Beneficial, Studies Show

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Protesters outside the Idaho Capitol in 2019 demanded a 'clean' implementation of Medicaid expansion. State lawmakers eventually passed several restrictions, including work requirements.

As Idaho lawmakers continue to debate how the state should pay for its voter-approved Medicaid expansion, hundreds of studies have shown many benefits to the program.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found increased coverage under the expansion has led to more early-stage cancer diagnoses, more access to mental health treatment and savings to states in other areas of the budget – like the criminal justice system.

“Medicaid expansion seems to have really improved not only coverage, but also access to care,” said Jennifer Tolbert with Kaiser Family Foundation.

The organization came to these conclusions after distilling 324 studies conducted over the past five years.

Tolbert says the survey also found people have lost insurance coverage in states that have tacked on work requirements.

“It may be that they, in fact, are working or are eligible for the exemption, but they simply don’t understand the rules and so therefore are losing coverage as a result of that.”

Idaho is in the process of asking the federal government’s permission to implement its own set of work requirements.

One thing that isn’t clear, is whether Medicaid expansion has helped cut the number of pricey emergency room visits when patients could have gone to an urgent care clinic.

Costs to the state for Medicaid expansion are expected to total $105 million over the next 10 years.

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

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio

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