Last year, Idaho voters passed Proposition 2 by 61%, directing legislators to expand Medicaid coverage to people with annual incomes of up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level. That means people previously excluded from Medicaid may now be able to apply. About 70,000 Idahoans are eligible, and enrollment begins Nov. 1, with coverage taking effect on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. Jeremy Gugino, the communications director and a volunteer for Reclaim Idaho, described bringing the effort to expand Medicaid this far has been an instance of Idahoans doing something their elected representatives would not.
“This is Idaho’s greatest legislation achievement in a generation and the credit goes to the people of Idaho,” said Gugino.
Though enrollment begins Friday, the fight over Medicaid expansion in Idaho has been contentious. Voters passed the proposition, but Idaho lawmakers have tried to add limitations to access in the form of waivers. According to Gugino, “they’re not waivers, they are restrictions, and many if these would create new gaps where people become again ineligible for coverage.”
A number of guardrails to expansion have been proposed. They include a work waiver that would require recipients to work 20 hours a week to remain eligible, required paperwork that would have to be submitted regularly, and one that could steer Medicaid-eligible people to private insurance by way of state exchange plans.
“The legislature passed a bill with a lot of restrictions,” said Gugino, “This is about providing healthcare access for Idahoans, investing in families and communities and providing access to healthcare can help Idaho become a more prosperous state.”
However, for many republican lawmakers the waivers are an important part of the negotiations. In regards to the work waiver, Majority Caucus Chair Rep. John Vander Woude, who co-wrote the bill, said work requirements are an important part of his vision for how Medicaid would be expanded in Idaho.
“I am disappointed that it’s taken so long to get these in place, we are dealing with able-bodied adults, and there are jobs everywhere,” he said.
Medicaid waivers have not worked in other states like Arkansas and Kentucky, but Vander Woude said his bill wouldn't suffer the same fate as similar ones elsewhere, adding that the Idaho waiver would instead require paperwork similar to the SNAP program.
“I had hoped all of the waivers would be in place,” said Vander Woude. “It’s late in the game to be dealing with this and some waivers are critical to give Idahoans the choice for private insurance.”
As the debate over waivers continues, the enrollment and coverage dates will remain unchanged. To qualify, people must be between 19 and 64 years old, be under 138% of the Federal poverty level, not be receiving Medicare, and be a citizen or legal resident. There are several ways to apply for the coverage: Online, by phone toll-free at 1-877-456-1233, and in person at any Idaho Health and Welfare office.
Additionally, St. Luke’s offers Medicaid enrollment fairs in southwest Idaho to assist people. Enrollment fairs will be located at St. Luke's Boise Medical Center, Portico Tower North, St. Luke's Nampa Medical Center and St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center. Enrollment fair dates can be found on the St. Luke’s website.