Throughout the legislative session, some lawmakers have been considering ways to override the will of the people, who overwhelmingly voted in November to extend Medicaid coverage to the working poor in the gap.
Thankfully, many of the worst ideas have been beaten back by tireless citizen advocacy and lawmakers driven by common sense. Repeal looks to be off the table.
A bill currently under consideration, sponsored by Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, is the latest and most serious attempt to undermine the will of voters.
The bill contains many provisions, some of which aren’t bad. For example, it would allow the state to apply for permission to let those earning between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level choose between a subsidized private plan and Medicaid. It’s hard to argue with offering a choice.
But the bill’s central proposal — establishing a new bureaucracy to enforce work requirements on expanded Medicaid recipients — would cost Idaho taxpayers millions and solve no real problems. It would predictably result in many in the Medicaid gap losing coverage because of problems cutting through needless red tape. And because lawmakers haven’t so far opted to eliminate the CAT Fund and county indigent funds, Idaho taxpayers will cover their emergency room bills.
Lawmakers took testimony on the proposal Friday. The opposition was overwhelming, with only a single voice of support for work requirements.
One woman, who worked for a landscaping company in a rural area, told lawmakers what lack of health care access meant to her. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation. She had to drive hours each day from city hospitals to her rural job. She had to tape her fingernails on for fear they might fall off in a customer’s shopping bag. She was written up for working slowly, and lived in constant fear that she would lose her job, and therefore her health insurance, despite working as hard as she could.
Patients don’t want this cruel bill.
Doctors told stories of patients who died after being diagnosed with cancer in a late stage, cancers which could have been caught early and treated. And they told stories of patients with injuries that left them unable to work, patients for whom treatment must come before work is possible, not the other way around. According to Dr. Ted Epperly, 93 percent of physicians favor clean Medicaid expansion. So does the Idaho Hospital Association.
Doctors don’t want this ineffective bill.
The state’s chief business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, spoke in opposition.
Employers don’t want this pointless bill.
Lawmakers who support the bill have presented absolutely no evidence that work requirements are effective or that expansion results in people not working. Medicaid expansion has been in effect in many states, and study after study has found that it has caused either no effect on employment or a boost in employment. In Arkansas, where work requirements have been implemented, many lost coverage not because they refused work, but because they found it impossible to navigate the tangle of red tape lawmakers put in their way.
The studies don’t support this useless bill.
The only support for work requirements, if not for the bill itself, came from the Idaho Freedom Foundation. It is a group driven by the dictates of a stringent ideology, not common sense. Foundation President Wayne Hoffman recently called public schools “the most virulent form of socialism.”
The Freedom Foundation is too extreme in these matters to be taken seriously. It doesn’t want the government providing health care to the working poor for the same reason it doesn’t want the government to provide schooling to children, for the same reason it would work to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and most other programs if given the opportunity.
If anyone supports this bill, they didn’t care enough to show up at the hearing.
Lawmakers considering work requirements must ask themselves: Does your Freedom Index score matter to you more than the empirical evidence, the opinions of all the experts and the will of the very people who sent you to Boise?