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Proposed bill would implement work, train, volunteer requirements for Medicaid expansion

Posted at 6:17 PM, Feb 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 20:19:13-05

BOISE — Medicaid expansion continues to be a hot topic at the statehouse and now a bill proposal that would add work training requirements to the law is causing some controversy.

It's a law our neighboring states have implemented very recently. Montana funded Medicaid expansion with a tobacco tax increase and Utah with a sales tax increase.

What Proposition 2 lacked here in Idaho was a way to fund the program; which is why the issue has been one with different funding suggestions and intense debate at the legislature this year.

"Seventy-four percent of voters want the legislature to implement the Medicaid Expansion Law as it was passed by the voters," said Lauren Necochea, member of Close the Gap Idaho.

That statistic is according to a GS Strategy poll recently conducted to reflect Idaho's voter population, which supported the expansion of Medicaid in November with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Read the full poll here.

What the poll found voters don't want, is millions spent on a work requirement program.

"We could refer people who participate in Medicaid to workforce training programs that will help them get some sort of certification, help them improve their job search skills," said Necochea.

Those workforce training programs are what Representative Bryan Zollinger says his proposed bill would do, "The objective is to help people get the training, encourage them to go to college, vocational training, and help them progress in life and be able to afford the healthcare to move out of the Medicaid population," said Zollinger, (R) Idaho Falls.

The bill has not yet been introduced at the statehouse, but it's a proposal that would add work, train, and volunteer requirements to the Idaho Medicaid expansion law, something Zollinger said Idahoans are in favor of, according to a poll conducted by Opportunity Solutions Project.

Read the full poll here.

"The misperception, this is not requiring work, it's 20 hours a week, so they have time to take care of family or whatever their other duties might be," said Zollinger.

There are exemptions to those requirements for some populations including: people who are under 19-years-old; people who are over 59-years-old; those who are physically or intellectually unfit for employment; people who are pregnant; caretakers of children under 6-years-old; or caretakers of children with disabilities.

Cost for this program, however, is still a bit up in the air. The bill would support using a similar setup to the SNAP program.

"Numbers are out there anywhere from $400,000 to $2 million, I think that's gonna be on the lower side, perhaps even lower than $400,000, because we're using the current infrastructure," said Zollinger.

And while Close the Gap Idaho is in favor of the training programs, they are not in favor of the portion of the bill that would mirror the setup of the SNAP program.

JFAC, the legislatures budget setting committee, made the decision earlier this week to fund Medicaid expansion using Idaho's Millennium Fund, which is dollars that have typically gone to help nonprofits across the state. Now without money in that jar for those organizations to pull from, options to hire employees are going to be limited, which is something Representative Mike Kingsley hopes will be eased by one of the requirements.

"This work requirement where people, well part of it, where they can volunteer, it's really going to help our nonprofits that are gonna be missing money in the Millennium fund," said Kingsley, (R) Lewiston.

Funding for this bill is not be available this year, so if passed, it would take effect in 2020.