- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A small group of Idaho lawmakers did not come to a consensus Monday on the best way to provide medical care for the estimated 78,000 Idahoans without health coverage, and decided instead to submit a long list of recommendations to be considered during the 2017 legislative session.

“Chances are better than ever we get something done,” said Republican Rep. Tom Loertscher, co-chair of the 10-member legislative interim committee. “However, you have to understand that we are only 10 of the gang here.”

Loertscher added that it’s time for the state to act after allowing county officials for years to shoulder the burden of finding ways to provide care to Idaho’s poorest.

Various ideas floated Monday included simply expanding Medicaid as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, asking the private sector to draft a bill that would expand Medicaid with the private sector covering any state costs; creating a grant program to cover primary care services to the so-called Medicaid gap population that included accountability requirements.

But the lawmakers could not agree on which way was best to recommend so they decided to the majority of their ideas into a report to be finalized Nov. 22 and serve as guidance for future proposals.

“We have a lot of people that don’t make good health care choices, and I think we need to start making it so that there are consequences if you don’t,” said House Majority Caucus Chair John Vander Woude, who is a committee member.

Efforts to expand eligibility for Medicaid - the federal health care program designed to cover the poor - gained some traction during this year’s legislative session. But those attempts ultimately failed when the House chamber adjourned without considering an expansion proposal sent over by the Senate.

Idaho’s Republican-dominant Legislature has repeatedly declined to expand eligibility for Medicaid, citing that accepting federal dollars only comes with regulatory burdens that do not help lower the growing costs of medical care.

The state’s handful of Democratic lawmakers, community advocates and multiple medical groups counter that Idahoans are already shouldering the cost of indigent care and the state should accept the federal government’s offer to offset the cost of a Medicaid expansion.

Republican Sen. Marv Hagedorn, co-chair of the interim committee, predicted the Medicaid gap will be resolved through a variety of bills next year.

Hagedorn’s own proposal laid out during Monday’s meeting would allow accepting federal Medicaid expansion fund for two years to cover pending health care costs. After that, the state would transition those recipients into its own primary care system to cut costs.

“My intention is to put a bill together,” Hagedorn said. “We all agree something has to happen.”

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