Lawmakers punt on healthcare gap coverage

Posted at 4:37 PM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 19:24:12-04

Republican lawmakers kick the can to next year on a solution to covering those in the healthcare gap.

House Republicans are rolling out the red carpet on their healthcare plan, but it's not getting a celebratory welcome. Leadership decided on a conservative plan through two separate bills.

The first bill creates an interim committee that will study the options the Legislature has to provide coverage for the gap population. The Department of Health and Welfare has conducted similar studies, but Republican leadership believes their own study is necessary.

The second bill attempts to do something for people in the gap. For the next two year, the state will funnel $5 million annually to medical health centers that service the poor.

The plan has been panned by Democrats.

"I think it's a delay," said Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. "I think it's a non-step and I'm very disappointed in the Republican Caucus that this is the best they can do to serve Idahoans."

The dissatisfaction extends beyond the minority party. Fifteen Republicans voted against the interim committee bill. Twelve voted against funding health centers. Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell, was outspoken, saying the bill offers no coverage but costs the state $10 million.

"What I will not do is vote to approve another government program that expands more taxpayer money in place of a viable solution," he said.

A number of lawmakers supporting the plan did it conditionally. It seems for some it is a pill that must be swallowed in order to do something instead of nothing.

"At least, we're still moving toward finding the right solution: a waiver here in Idaho that would allow for managed care," said Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon.

Representative Luke Malek, who worked on specific language in the bills, admits it falls short of a solution. The problem is 78,000 Idahoans who are unable to get healthcare coverage. Funding medical centers does nothing to grant coverage and spread out over the gap population gives $64.10 to each person.

According to a representative from the Idaho Primary Care Association, that isn't enough to cover a basic check-up.

"What these two bills do will not change the landscape of our healthcare environment in Idaho," said Malek, R-Coeur D'Alene. "What it does do is set a bar and obligate us to do something next year when we come back."

The Senate will take up the bill where a few things could happen. Most simply, they could pass the legislation as written. They could table to bill, killing it. Lastly, they could amend the bill in a manner they want and send it back to the House.