The 63rd Idaho State Legislature adjourned on March 25th, 2016. This means most legislators will go back to their districts to begin campaigning, and to discuss their accomplishments this session. However, the accomplishments for the session are tempered by the major issue they failed to address – the healthcare coverage gap.
When the 2016 legislative session started, we and our coalition partners had one goal – to get a bill introduced to expand healthcare to the 78,000 Idahoans who fall in the healthcare gap. Getting a bill printed was something that we had not been able to accomplish in the prior three legislative sessions.
We are proud to say that we got much further this legislative session but sadly we were not able to close the gap this year. Significant movement was made on the issue in an effort to save lives, provide support to struggling families, and save the state millions of dollars. Nonetheless, on the final day of the session, all efforts to begin the process in Idaho were killed on a party line vote in the House.
Several bills were introduced throughout the session to address the healthcare coverage gap including SB 1205, the Healthy Idaho Plan, which allowed Idaho to seek a waiver to implement Medicaid expansion in a way that was unique to the needs of the state through a managed care plan, supported by Medicaid dollars. SB 1205 was heard in committee after a massive constituent turnout on the part of our Close the Gap Coalition efforts.
Story after story was shared about how the healthcare coverage gaps costs our state money and even more tragically costs people their lives. Despite all our efforts as session progressed it looked like we would not be able to close the healthcare coverage gap but then in the last few weeks of session two new bills were introduced on the issue, HCR 63 and HB 644.
HCR 63 would have formed a formal legislative committee to study and make recommendations regarding the gap population, and HB 644, which would have provided $5 million in grants to community health centers and collected data from these programs on the medically underserved gap population.
The final two days of session left us waiting with baited breath after the Senate amended HB 644 so that it would start the process of applying to the federal government for a Medicaid expansion waiver. After HB 644 was amended it was sent back to the House for approval. In the hours between the Senate returning the bill to the House Governor Otter publically supported the bill to start the waiver process.
Sadly on the last day of session and one of the last votes of the year the House voted to kill the bill down party lines. Instead the Speaker of the House has announced he will appoint a legislative committee to study the problem and present recommendations during the 2017 session. Frustratingly this means Idaho tax payers will pay for a fourth study when the first three recommended a full coverage solution like what the Healthy Idaho Plan would have provided.
For those of you who supported our efforts this session and throughout the year, we appreciate your time and support. We have not given up on this important issue.
If you would like to get involved in our efforts to close the healthcare coverage gap contact Erin Bennett to learn more.