- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho lawmakers are considering a last-ditch effort to provide health care to some of the state’s poorest residents in the final week of the Legislative session.

One proposal, called the Idaho Accountable Care Waiver Act, would allow the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to apply for a Medicaid waiver to provide health insurance for people below 100 percent of the federal poverty line.

However, the proposal hasn’t yet been introduced and if it is, it’s unclear if Republican leadership will allow the measure to move forward.

House Speaker Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said several Republican members met Friday afternoon to discuss amending the proposed legislation.

“If the various legislators come up with a consensus, I will support what they discuss,” he said. “There are others that want that certain bases are touched. They are talking. I don’t think they are that far apart.”

Legislators have heard several proposals to provide health care to a gap population of about 78,000 Idahoans who don’t qualify for medical insurance, but have failed to pass any health care measure in the nearly three months of the legislative session.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Medicaid alternative, dubbed the Primary Care Access Program, failed to garner enough support to pass through the statehouse. The $30 million effort drew criticism for only covering preventative care and not treating chronic illnesses and most mental illnesses.

Republican lawmakers have also repeatedly rejected considering expanding Medicaid eligibility despite acknowledging that the state’s current indigent health care system is broken beyond repair.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, who has been advocating health care coverage for low-income Idahoans, made an eleventh hour effort to revive two Medicaid expansion bills Monday, but hit a roadblock from the Republican supermajority when he tried to pull the legislation onto the Senate floor.

The Moscow Democrat has since given up his own state-provided health care insurance in protest.

He said Friday that he was glad Republicans were finally discussing the measure.

“This is the whole part of the process of doing the work,” he said. “You have conversations, have these discussions and have these ideas and sometimes they lead to something and sometimes they don’t.”

“My goal has always been to get people talking,” he added. “I am not married to any single answer.”

If the new measure is introduced Monday, it will have to clear both chambers before getting Otter’s approval.

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