Idaho Senate Approves Medicaid Work Requirements

Apr 2, 2019

Idaho Senators have endorsed work requirements as part of a compromise with the House in order to fund the state’s voter-approved Medicaid expansion program.

The vote came down 20-15 after a little more than an hour of debate and over the objection of several Republicans. Supporters say they want to help those low-income Idahoans eligible for Medicaid expansion escape poverty.

Sen. Jim Rice (R-Caldwell) says if you’re able-bodied or don’t have to take care of kids or a family member, you should have to work at least 20 hours a week, as the bill requires.

“Help pay for the care you’re receiving. Have some skin the game. Don’t just freeload on your neighbors,” Rice says.

Many of those who would be eligible are already working. Those who don’t meet the benchmark won’t be kicked off – they’ll just have to pay a co-pay until they can meet the requirements.

The vote comes less than a week after a federal judge struck down similar mandatory work programs in Arkansas and Kentucky.

Sen. Jim Guthrie (R-Inkom) warned his colleagues to keep that in mind during the debate.

“If it was going to be your wallet you had to dig in to pay the legal bills from passing problematic legislation, how would you vote,” Guthrie says.

State senators transformed the original bill from Sen. Fred Martin (R-Boise), which would’ve established a voluntary job training program.

Martin ultimately dropped his support for the measure, saying he can’t support the mandatory work requirements.

“To me, it is too costly, it is not needed, it is unnecessary and may be ruled upon in the future,” he says.

A fiscal analysis pegs the annual cost of verifying someone’s work history at $1.6 million.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare expects about 11,000 people who weren’t already meeting these benchmarks out of the estimated 91,000 people who could be eligible under Medicaid expansion.

In addition to mandatory work requirements, the bill would ask the federal government to approve a set of waivers that include letting those earning between 100-138 percent of the federal poverty level buy insurance through Idaho’s exchange instead of signing up for Medicaid.

Anyone enrolled in the program who hopes to get birth control would need to get a referral to an outside clinic or specialist if their primary care doctor can’t – or refuses – to prescribe it to them.

House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) says he plans to have a public hearing on the bill Wednesday morning.

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