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House committee puts bill to restrict Medicaid expansion on ice

Protesters with signs supporting Medicaid expansion in Idaho protest in front of the capitol in Boise.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio
Supporters of expanding Medicaid eligibility in Idaho protest in front of the Idaho Capitol in 2019.

An effort to add significant restrictions to those receiving health coverage under Medicaid expansion in Idaho are stalled for now.

The House Health and Welfare Committee voted Thursday morning to hold the proposal amid near unanimous opposition from those who testified for nearly two hours.

The bill would implement work requirements for program recipients, limit the length of time they could receive benefits over their lifetime and cap the number of participants in Medicaid expansion, among other provisions.

“This legislation sends a clear message to [able-bodied recipients], primarily those 18-40, that the taxpayers are willing to extend a helping hand, but we want a reciprocal effort,” said Rep. Jordan Redman (R-Coeur d’Alene), who sponsors the bill.

Several of the proposed restrictions would need approval from the federal government, which under the Trump administration already denied two similar requests from Idaho lawmakers in the past.

If those regulations aren’t approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and implemented by state officials by July 1, 2025, the entire expansion portion of the program would be repealed.

House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett), who helped lead negotiations on those earlier work requirement provisions, said she’s not willing to pass this bill yet.

Blanksma said she wants to know if state health officials or federal officials are “slow rolling” consideration of two Medicaid waivers that have been pending since 2019.

“There’s also an elephant in the room that we had to deal with,” she said.

State lawmakers eliminated a catastrophic health care fund in 2023, which covered uninsured Idahoans who could not pay their medical bills prior to Medicaid expansion.

“Because we got rid of the [catastrophic health care fund], we now have an indigent issue,” said Blanksma.

Several of those who testified in opposition to the legislation said health coverage they received because they could enroll in Medicaid expansion saved their life through routine screenings or help pay for needed medications.

“Medicaid allowed me to get the surgery that now makes me cancer-free and able to stand before you today,” said Carol Augustus, a recently retired home health worker whose employer didn’t offer her health benefits.

Dr. Scott Dunn, a family physician from Sandpoint, shared the experience of one of his patients. The 62-year-old man owns a small engine repair business and didn’t have health insurance prior to the implementation of Medicaid expansion.

“His diabetes, his high blood pressure, his sleep apnea can be treated successfully, and he anticipates having enough years ahead of him to be able to work until age 70,” said Dunn. “He’s really excited about how healthy he feels now.”

All of that could go away, he said, should the expansion limit participants to 50,000 enrollees.

About 95,000 Idahoans are currently receiving benefits under Medicaid expansion.

The House Health and Welfare Committee voted 8-5 to hold the bill in committee for now. It’s unclear when or if it will resurface this legislative session.

Copyright 2024 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.

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