BOISE -- Minority Democrats are calling for Republicans to schedule debate on a bill to expand Medicaid this session, saying Idaho risks squandering an opportunity to save taxpayers tens of millions and bring $1.1 billion into the state.
House Minority Leader John Rusche joined Sen. Dan Schmidt Tuesday in issuing an open letter urging Republicans to "find courage to stand up to their activists' narrow, but vocal opposition."
President Barack Obama's 2010 insurance overhaul foresaw expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income people, but the U.S. Supreme Court left it up to states to decide.
GOP Rep. Tom Loertscher of Iona has introduced a measure to expand Medicaid, arguing it makes financial sense. On Monday, Rusche tried to get a hearing, but his effort failed 2-8, with no Republican support.
"Some of it is healthcare fatigue through the legislative session, and some of it is concern about having to address another aspect of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and some of it is really lack of understanding, I think, of the real benefits and the implications of failing to make a decision at this point in time," Rusche (D-Lewiston) said.
However, Republican leaders including House Speaker Scott Bedke say there's not enough time left in the 2013 session to tackle the issue. House Health and Welfare Committee member Representative Brandon Hixon (R-Caldwell), who voted against a hearing, agrees it's timing, not 'fatigue' as Democrats speculate.
"I'm not sure if it's [fatigue]. I know the health insurance exchange was a big issue, and I know that took a lot out of a lot of people, but that's what we're down here to do. We're down here to represent the people and we're down here to really look at these big issues. So I don't think it's as much that, as that we really want to give this the proper look that it deserves," Hixon said.
Rusche says they don't plan to do anything more aggressive this session, though he still wishes Republicans would reconsider.
"I don't see that we can do anything in our minority status. It just would, I think at this point in time, that would cement the opposition to it," Rusche said. "My Christmas gift would be that they think twice and we pick it up on Thursday, but Santa doesn't come often in April."
Governor Butch Otter has been against taking up Medicaid expansion this year; however he did put together a work group on the issue last summer after the Supreme Court ruling. Last week, that group sent Otter a letter expressing an urgent need to address expansion this session, if possible. Like the Democrats, the letter talked about taxpayer cost concerns.