Medicaid expansion & initiative process in peril?

“Voters serious about seeing insurance coverage for the ‘gap’ population would be wise to vote for legislators who agree” (Idaho Press, Oct. 16, 2018).

I wrote it once before the 2018 elections–I now regret not repeating it weekly.

Last November, in the privacy of the voting booth, Idahoans passed Medicaid expansion while electing legislators who opposed it.

We’ve known since then that it’d be a fight to get expansion through the legislature, but a second unexpected fight has erupted.

I feel many voters thought their representatives would, as Gov. Brad Little has, graciously accept the decision of the voters. Unfortunately, plenty are either openly opposing covering more people with insurance or mouthing support while undercutting the implementation of the bill.

Supporters of HB 249 know that Arkansas, the only state with a work requirement underway, found that the requirements added few people to the workforce. Ninety-eight percent of new Medicaid recipients were already meeting work requirements through the SNAP program; thousands of others failed to report and continue to rely on emergency medical services.

These legislators know the Feds have never approved anything like the waiver HB 249 would request that would include the gap population on the insurance exchange with 100 percent of subsidies paid by the Federal government. Just making the request could delay implementation most of a year.

And they know that no funds have been budgeted to cover the $1.5 million a year that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare estimates as the ongoing cost of the bureaucracy HB 249  would require.

In short, some legislators are working to add elements to Medicaid expansion that make  implementation impossible while claiming they are just being responsible and frugal.

Will they succeed in crippling  Medicaid expansion?

That’s the question many Idahoans have been asking since November.

What Proposition 2 supporters weren’t expecting was an attack on the initiative process itself.

Maybe we should have.  After the term limits initiative, the number of signatures needed to get a proposition on the ballot was increased to six percent of registered voters–or roughly 10 percent of those who actually vote.

After the Luna Laws were rescinded, the legislature required the total to include six percent of registered voters from 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.

Now Sen. C. Scott Grow’s SB 1159 would not only require 10 percent of registered voters in 32 legislative districts, it would cut the time allowed to gather signatures from 18 to six months.

The weekly Inlander quotes Grow as saying, “Running a state government by voter initiative defeats the basic fundamental premise of the Constitution. We elect representatives and trust them with responsibility.”

The Senator can’t be referring to Idaho’s Constitution. It says, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.”

Grow’s bill awakens the fight-or-flight response in me even though I believe it will never take effect. There’s a very real chance that Chair Patti Ann Lodge, district 11, will see it dies in the State Affairs Committee. The two bills to rescind Proposition Two failed in committee in spite of supporters asserting only representatives should have the right to make laws.

Even if the bill did pass both houses, it’s doubtful that Gov. Little would sign it or, if he did, that it would pass a court challenge.

Still, my blood pounds and my neck feels stiff.

We will have many more months of worry about the fate of Medicaid expansion if  HB 249 passes.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

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