- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - House lawmakers on Friday killed the proposal to expand Medicaid in Idaho on the final day of the 2016 legislative session.

Instead, House Speaker Scott Bedke says lawmakers will study the issue over the summer to finalize a plan for the 2017 legislative session. The goal is to come up with a proposal to allow the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to apply for a Medicaid waiver to provide health insurance for people who have incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty line. The bi-partisan committee will begin meeting in May.

“I want my dream team on this,” Bedke said.

This means lawmakers will wait one more year before addressing the estimated 78,000 Idahoans without health coverage because they either don’t qualify for Medicaid, the health care program designed to cover the poor, or make too much for a subsidy.

Tensions rose the final days of the session as legislative leaders worked on possible Medicaid expansion options. Splits between the Republican supermajority and rifts between the Senate and House resulted in very little legislation moving forward.

A last-minute bill was stitched together by Senate lawmakers on Thursday after they completely revamped a minor House bill that would have only allocated more funding for studying the so-called Medicaid gap population. The Senate then adjourned for the year. However, the complete transformation was too much of an uphill battle for the Republicans to stomach in the House.

The proposal was rejected on a party-line vote on Friday.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has the option to take executive action on allowing a Medicaid waiver, but the Republican governor has declined to comment if he will use this power.

Bedke says he was dismayed the Senate left town without considering forming a rarely-used panel to continue working on the Medicaid expansion options. Known as a conference committee, the panel has been used in the past to find solutions on impasses between the House and Senate.

Yet Bedke added that it may not be all that surprising the option was taken off the table after last year’s highly contentious conference committee on transportation funding that left multiple Senate leaders accusing the House of refusing to compromise.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers remained hopeful that progress had been made despite passing nothing on the subject.

Republican Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, said the Legislature sent a clear message this session that they want to do something on addressing the Medicaid gap. That sentiment has not always been clear in the past.

“At the start of this session, we didn’t have a prayer. But we almost got something done,” Malek said. “And that’s fantastic.”

House Democrats countered that another year of studying the issue is unnecessary.

“It will be a shame to wait another year,” Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett said. “We should have taken care of it this year.”

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