JFAC approves money to fill Medicaid funding gap


Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa, says that the personal property tax in Idaho hurts the state when it comes to attracting new businesses.

A state legislative committee unanimously has approved extra Medicaid funding for fiscal year 2013, amid assurances that Medicaid eligibility and costs are not expanding.

“We’re not expanding Medicaid eligibility,” Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, told IdahoReporter.com. “At least we aren’t yet. The choice to expand it will have to be a decision for the full Legislature to make.”

The committee also voted to approve a statement of purpose, which was drafted to express the committee’s legislative intent. Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, drafted the statement, which says that the committee’s “yes” vote on extra Medicaid funding for fiscal year 2013 was not meant to indicate that the committee wished to approve expanding Medicaid eligibility in the future. The statement was voted on separately from the funding measure, and was approved by all except two committee members; Reps. Phylis King, D-Boise, and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, both voted “no.”

Thayn sits on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC). Last week, JFAC members were reviewing proposals for “supplemental” funding, a process whereby the budget for the current fiscal year is “re-opened” and additional funding is added to the various agencies of the government that are in need.

Among the agencies seeking extra funding was the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, due to a shortfall of funds for Medicaid services. Gov. Butch Otter’ was requesting to add more than $6.3 million in additional funding for the program, which the committee approved Thursday.

Of that amount, nearly $6 million will come from federal funds, the remaining amount from state money, said Thayn.

Begun in 1965, the Medicaid program provides certain health care services to individuals and families with low incomes and limited resources. Financed with a combination of federal and state tax revenues, the expanding costs of Medicaid have in recent years become a topic of growing concern among the individual states.

“I feel very uncomfortable approving funds for something for which we don’t have rules, something that has not even been vetted in our committee,” noted Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, in last week’s committee hearing. Mortimer at that time objected to the proposed Medicaid funding increase, and the committee agreed to delay a vote on an increase.

The committee had become disagreeable because of concerns that through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Obama administration is seeking to significantly alter the metric by which the states will calculate Medicaid eligibility. By attempting to impose what is known as the MAGI (Modified Adjusted Gross Income) metric, concerns have arisen that Washington is seeking not only to make Medicaid eligibility uniform across the 50 states, but also to increase the number of individuals who will be eligible for Medicaid.

For Idaho, this could possibly mean an additional 25,000 to 35,000 Medicaid recipients. “We aren’t adding to the list of recipients right now,” Thayn said after Thursday’s committee hearing.

Thayn referred IdahoReporter.com to a document from the U.S. Department of Health and Welfare, which states, in part, that “the method (MAGI method) does not systematically increase or decrease the number of eligible individuals within a given eligibility group, or systematically increase or decrease the costs (of Medicaid) to the states.”

“The Legislature has some big choices on Medicaid lying ahead,” Thayn noted.

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