OPINION: HILLARIE HAGEN — Moving forward with Medicaid expansion in Idaho

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Hillarie Hagen GUEST OPINION

Last November, 61 percent of voters expanded Medicaid for Idahoans who make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for tax credits on the health exchange. I’ve been collecting the stories of Idahoans in the gap to help them share their experiences of being uninsured with decision makers. During the 2019 legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that requires the state to ask the federal government for various changes to the plan voters originally approved. Here’s what Idahoans need to know about our path forward. First, Idaho is moving forward to implement Medicaid expansion. The Legislature approved funding and plans are underway for enrollment. Idahoans up to 138 percent federal poverty level (FPL), which is about $1,437 per month for an individual, can start submitting enrollment applications to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare for Medicaid on Nov. 1. Health coverage begins for this new population on Jan. 1, 2020.

The bill passed this year in the Legislature asks the state to apply for multiple waivers from the federal government, some of which will add complicated bureaucratic rules to Medicaid expansion at the expense of Idaho taxpayers. This application process can be lengthy, will include a 30-day state comment period with two public hearings and a 30-day federal comment period, and approval can take up to a year or more. If approved, the work reporting requirement waiver is likely to result in a lawsuit, since similar proposals were just ruled illegal in a district federal court.

It’s important to note that the bill passed in the Idaho Legislature will not delay the implementation of Medicaid expansion. This means all Idahoans in the gap should plan to enroll in coverage starting in November. The ultimate question is not when will these complicated waivers be implemented in Idaho, but if they will be implemented. We call on all Idahoans to submit comments that oppose the waiver that would add complicated and costly work reporting requirements for Idahoans once that waiver comment period is open sometime this year.

In the meantime, we can all work together to make sure Idahoans in the gap begin enrolling in health coverage starting this November. The earlier people who are currently uninsured get into health coverage, the healthier they will be and the more likely they will be to find and keep jobs. With more Idahoans insured, hospital bills will be paid and our local communities and the state will save money previously spent on uncompensated care. Join me in spreading the word about how health coverage can lift up Idaho families and our economies and make sure your friends and neighbors in the gap know to enroll in coverage between November and December, so they can get health coverage in January 2020.

• • •

Hillarie Hagen is an Idaho native, growing up in Idaho Falls and the Kooskia/Clearwater area. She has a passion for policy and advocating for Idaho children and families to ensure they have the tools and resources they need to thrive. For the past two years, she has worked for Idaho Voices for Children as an outreach specialist and liaison to Close the Gap Idaho, speaking to Idahoans about their health care experiences. She graduated from Boise State University in 2017 and now lives in Boise with her family.

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