Lawmakers Discuss Whether To Expand Idaho’s Medicaid Program

Sep 10, 2012

Who will be eligible for Medicaid if Idaho expands its program under the Affordable Care Act?  That’s the question lawmakers asked Monday of state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong.  He’s part of a 15 member panel studying the option. 

Armstrong says the panel has gathered a lot of information so far.  But he says the federal government has not set some of the guidelines that will determine who would get to sign up for the expanded plan.  That means officials are left to guess how many residents would eligible.  

“We’re estimating somewhere around 100,000-125,000, part of the problem is it really 100,000 or is it 200,000, you see.  Until you know how you define eligibility, you really can’t get that down to the finest number,” he says.

Republican Senator Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said the state is already paying the cost of folks who would end up on an expanded Idaho program.  “We're either paying for them through Catastrophic Health Care plan, or through the prison system, or through hospitalization after the fact. So to me, Medicaid expansion is probably the way we need to go to make sure that we get the best outcomes.”

The costs to take care of those residents could go down, if Medicaid expands.  That’s because for the first three years of the program, beginning in 2014, the federal government will pay for 100 percent of the expansion. 

But lawmakers like Republican Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, are worried about future costs to the state.  He says over time, the federal government would only pay 90 percent of the costs.  “And then, ten years, 20 years from now, not us, but colleagues of ours will be sitting around the table trying to figure out how they’re going to pay for it.”

Armstrong says they do know 60 percent of those eligible for an expanded Medicaid have jobs.  Most of them will be between the ages of 25 and 54.  And many have chronic diseases.  He hopes to get more information from the federal government on eligibility, and from a Utah-based consulting firm known as Leavitt Partners, which is studying the issue for Idaho.  That report is due out Friday.

More than 236,000 Idahoans are currently enrolled in Medicaid.

Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio