Friday, January 31, 2014

Stop dithering, expand Medicaid

     Idaho should quit dithering on expanding Medicaid and follow the lead of its conservative southern neighbor that likely will be the next state to close a gap that’s keeping desperately poor people with serious health issues from getting medical help.

     Last week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, announced that his state would expand Medicaid to cover an estimated 111,000 poor adults. If the Legislature concurs, and it’s expected it will, Utah will become the 26th state to sign on to the expansion, a key part of the Affordable Care Act that created a broad health insurance system for all Americans.

     However, as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Medicaid expansion is optional for the states. Idaho was one of the states that opposed the ACA.

     Under Gov. Butch Otter’s leadership, Idaho still opposes expansion. Failure to expand Medicaid will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars because the state will not be reimbursed 100 percent by the federal government for health costs for the poor for three years and at 90 percent thereafter.

     Today, local taxpayers pick up the tab for those who can’t qualify for Medicaid through county indigent funds. Medicaid expansion could mean more than $600 million in savings for Idaho over 10 years and $478 million for property-tax payers, according to a University of Idaho study. Even the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which knows a good deal when it sees it, has endorsed expansion. Yet, Otter is choosing ideology over practicality because of fear that the federal government won’t keep the funding deal and because the ACA is politically unpopular. If the fear is realized, bigger states will be left holding the bag and will bring heavy pressure to keep funding in place.

     Idaho should put ideology aside, save its taxpayers money and make health care available for the poor.

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