Bill Expanding Access To Family Planning Services Stalls

Mar 7, 2018

Credit Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Idaho House on Wednesday signaled they have little desire this year to consider legislation that would provide low-income women access to key health and family planning services.

Lawmakers agreed without debate or discussion to delay voting on the Democratic-backed measure until March 21, the same day lawmakers are working to adjourn for the year.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, a Democrat from Boise, says the move all but kills his proposal.

"I would like to have a vote," Erpelding said, adding that even if the bill was given the opportunity, it was still likely 10 to 15 votes short of getting enough support to advance to the Senate.

Erpelding had the option to send HB 563 to be amended, but he decided against that after seeing some of the suggested amendments that would have drastically changed the bill and possibly inserted legally dubious language.

According to the measure, Idaho would have pursued a federal permission — known as a waiver — to expand family planning services to women ages 19-44 who currently do not qualify for Medicare, Medicaid or other health care assistance programs. The waiver would be designed to expand those services for five years with the federal government picking up the majority of the tab, though the state's total cost would have been an estimated $3.5 million.

Supporters said the bill was needed because most low-income women in Idaho are only eligible to enroll in Medicaid if they become pregnant. They lose that coverage within 60 days of delivery.

Erpelding's so-called Plan First Idaho was expected to apply to 15,000 women.

Family planning services include coverage for contraceptives, counseling, cancer screenings and depression screenings. It does not cover abortion.

However, Republican members were heavily pressured from anti-abortion groups to oppose the bill because it did not ban Planned Parenthood from the Plan First Idaho program.

"We urge pro-lifers from around the state to immediately contact their House members to urge a resounding defeat of HB 563," stated the Idaho Chooses Life's website.

Planned Parenthood operates three clinics in Idaho and provides health care services to low-income Medicaid recipients — such as HPV vaccinations and vaginal exams. Medicaid dollars cannot be used to reimburse clinics like Planned Parenthood for abortions. Furthermore, courts have also said that states cannot block people from selecting certain providers.

Yet Idaho Chooses Life introduced legislation earlier this year seeking to block tax dollars from going toward Planned Parenthood. That bill has been assigned to the House Health and Welfare Committee — the same panel that endorsed Erpelding's proposal — and has not yet had a hearing. The House's block on Wednesday follows a similar defeat from earlier this year where lawmakers were forced to retreat on a measure to address Idaho's uninsured population due to a lack of support from Republicans.

The proposal would have provided coverage to roughly 38,000 Idahoans living in the Medicaid gap.