- Associated Press - Thursday, February 21, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Two pieces of legislation to repeal a voter-approved law expanding Medicaid in Idaho failed Thursday.

The House Health and Welfare Committee in separate 7-5 votes returned both pieces of legislation to sponsors, killing both efforts.

The first introductory piece of legislation was an outright repeal of the expansion. The second would have repealed the expansion in several years if expected savings involving other health care expenses absorbed by the state and counties didn’t result.

The majority of the committee rejected arguments made by Republican Reps. Julianne Young and John Green that Idaho voters were uninformed when they passed the initiative in November with 61 percent.

“I don’t buy the argument, at least in my legislative district, that the voters weren’t informed about exactly what they were buying and where the money was going to come from and what it was going to do,” said Republican Rep. Fred Wood, the committee’s chairman.

Voters authorized Medicaid expansion with an initiative in November after years of inaction by the Idaho Legislature. The expansion will provide access to preventative health care services for about 91,000 low-income Idaho residents, according to a risk management company hired by the state. The federal government would cover 90 percent of the estimated $400 million cost.

When legislation is initially brought before a committee, members typically vote on whether it meets technical aspects to advance to a hearing where the public can comment. Green argued such a hearing was needed for the legislation to immediately repeal the expansion due to disinformation supplied to voters in November.

“I think it’s our duty to air all the arguments, all the sides on this very important bill, so at least the public has the chance to learn from their mistakes for next time,” Green said.

Besides disagreeing with Green and Young that voters were uninformed, several lawmakers also said the 61 percent approval of voters was just too big a number to ignore.

“If anyone bears the blame it’s us,” said Republican Rep. Jarom Wagoner. “That we did not do something within those six or seven years - we’ve had ample opportunity. And so the voters took it upon themselves to do it.”

On related fronts, a Senate panel earlier this month voted to hold a hearing to drop Medicaid expansion if the federal government reduces the percentage it pays for the program. That hearing hasn’t yet been held.

Also earlier this month, the state Supreme Court ruled that the voter-approved initiative was legal following a challenge from a conservative group that argued it was unconstitutional.

Medicaid expansion in Idaho will be tracked so lawmakers can see how much it’s costing and where the money is going.

Medicaid Division Administrator Matt Wimmer also told lawmakers there will be decreases in the cost of some other state programs with the expansion.

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