Remember in November: Fight to expand Medicaid

For seven years the Idaho Legislature refused to expand Medicaid. 

It was predictable. After all, Idaho was one of the states that fought in court to do away with the Federal mandate for Medicaid expansion. This good Republican state wasn’t about to accept medical insurance for people a fraction above the poverty line, even when it was 100% paid for by the Federal government. 

Voter demand grew strong enough, however, that a Senate committee did hold a hearing in 2016. Hundreds of supporters showed up to testify about problems for people earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little for subsidies on the insurance exchange–those that Medicaid expansion was meant to cover..    

The chief results of the hearing were an angry scolding for Dr. Kenneth Krell for saying that the Legislature’s refusal to expand Medicaid had caused 10,000 deaths, and a pompous statement by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador that made national news, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”  

In November 2018 over 365,000 Idaho voters–60%–voted for an initiative to expand Medicaid. But the fight was far from over.  

There was a bright moment when newly-elected Governor Brad Little, previously opposed to expansion, accepted that the people had spoken and included funding in his budget request. 

But the Legislature wasn’t nearly as gracious. 

The 2019 legislative session limited expansion every way it could, passing rules that were only minutely different than ones already rejected by the courts.

And, adding insult to injury, legislators lectured voters.  

Initiatives should include their own funding. Yes, there was money for expansion–tobacco settlement funds, medical emergency funds that Medicaid Expansion would replace, and various savings. But initiatives should have to request a tax increase.   

Healthcare should not be cheap. People will overuse it and make the current physician shortage more serious. It will reward people for not working. (That was a particularly galling argument since people were in the gap because they made too much to be covered by traditional Medicaid.)  

Then, Sen. C. Scott Grow called for a fight against the entire initiative process. “Running a state government by voter initiative,” he claimed, “defeats the basic fundamental premise of the Constitution. We elect representatives and trust them with responsibility.”

Grow was apparently referring to the national Constitution, for Idaho’s says differently. “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.”  (Only 24 states grant citizens the power to initiate laws.)

And legislators leaped to join in the attack.    

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. After voters passed the term limits initiative, legislators increased the number of signatures needed to get a proposition on the ballot. After voters rescinded the Luna Laws, legislators increased the number of legislative districts that had to reach the required percent.  

Now legislators set out to make initiatives and referendums more difficult in three ways: cutting the time limit from 18 to six months; requiring signatures from 10% rather than 6% of the registered voters; and requiring that 32, rather than 18, of Idaho’s 35 districts reach the 10% goal.  

The bill passed the Senate, 18-17, and the House, 40-30. 

Gov. Little vetoed it.

Unsure how your legislators voted? 

You can find their names at Then visit https://, 2019 session, and look up bills HO249a and SO1159.   

No Internet?  Call your local library. They provide some great services.  

Imagine just how much more suffering this year’s pandemic would have caused if 80,000 more Idahoans couldn’t have afforded health care.   

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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