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Regional News

Idaho Senate Approves Medicaid Expansion Bill With Work Requirements

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Idaho Public Television
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The Idaho Senate today [Tuesday] approved a compromise bill that would expand Medicaid in the state. The bill includes a work requirement, but it wouldn’t remove people who don’t fulfill that requirement.

During the last several weeks, Idaho lawmakers have been massaging Medicaid expansion bills. Last November, about 61% approved Proposition 2, which would make subsidized care available to thousands of people who can’t access it now. But conservative lawmakers have worried about the cost. There’s been a vigorous debate about what was the voters’ will. At least one version died in a legislative committee.

This edition started as a bill that would have had a voluntary work requirement for  Medicaid recipients. But it was changed to require 20 hours a week of work or community service to be able to get that care. There are several categories of exceptions. Sen. Mary Souza (R-Coeur d'Alene) says the exceptions would apply to about three-fourths of those who would be eligible.

“This bill does not drop anyone off of Medicaid expansion. At no time will they lose their coverage. It simply asks them to be accountable for a small co-pay if they fail to fulfill the 20-hour-a-week work requirement or volunteer or schooling or looking for work,” Souza said.

Sen. Jim Rice (R-Caldwell) says it’s a reasonable requirement for people who want public services. He says the bill would improve access to mental health and substance abuse counseling.

“Stuff that will help people move in a direction that allows them to take control of their lives. That’s important,” Rice said.

The vote was 20-to-15, with all seven Democrats voting against it. They wanted Medicaid with no strings attached, the measure the voters approved. Eight Republicans joined them, including the bill’s original sponsor, Sen. Fred Martin (R-Boise).

“I appreciate others who help others make lemonade out of their lemons. Unfortunately, in this case, I don’t believe the juice justifies the squeeze," Martin said.

The sponsors of the November initiative agree. They initially indicated they could support Martin’s bill with its voluntary work component. Now that has changed, they call this version a Frankenstein bill that is not in the best interests of Idaho.
 
The bill now moves to a House committee, which is scheduled to quickly take up the bill tomorrow as lawmakers look ahead to finishing their odd year session.