ID House Barely Approves Medicaid Budget, Votes Down Covid School Testing Budget

Apr 27, 2021

The Idaho House narrowly approved a $3.7 billion Medicaid budget on Tuesday.
Credit Screenshot from Idaho Public Television

As Idaho’s legislature moves to the end of its session, lawmakers have said yes to a new Medicaid budget and then no to money for more Covid testing in schools.

Rep. Paul Amador [R-Coeur d'Alene] stuck his tongue in his cheek when introduced the state’s proposed $3.7 billion Medicaid budget.

“This is everybody’s favorite budget so I’m privileged to carry it today," he said.

Medicaid is the state medical program for people with lower incomes. Amador acknowledged it’s a lot of money.

“I think all of us are probably frustrated with out-of-control spending related to Medicaid and that primarily is based upon enrollment growth and policies that have been adopted by the state and by the federal government related to Medicaid," Amador said.

In 2018, the people of Idaho approved an initiative expanding Medicaid and, though the federal government is covering much of the cost, Idaho is paying more too. That was a point noted by Rep. Ronald Nate [R-Rexburg].

“This is over a $600 million increase in spending from last year, which is almost the amount of money we spend on the entire higher education system. The costs here are over-the-top, outrageous," he said.

After a short debate, the House passed the Medicaid budget by a 36-34 vote.

Then it turned to a proposal to spend up to $40 million for a program to help public and private schools provide Covid testing for students and staff. Rep. Caroline Troy [R-Genesee] introduced it.

“The schools have to ask for the money and they cannot force their students or teachers to take a Covid test," she said.

The questions came from several skeptical legislators, including Rep. Dorothy Moon [R-Stanley]. “Are we going to be using this to, more or less, coerce teachers into taking the shot?”

No, said Troy. She said there are no underlying requirements or plans for districts to follow. They apply if they want money.

The debate went on for more than 20 minutes, with Rep. Heather Scott [R-Blanchard] weighing in.

“$40 million for lab tests. I have a problem with this in our schools. This is just more government. It’s more data collection on our kids," she said.

In the end, the House voted down that budget, 41-28.