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Idahoans weigh in on new waivers to Medicaid expansion

Backers of the waivers say it gives people more freedom with their health insurance, while others say it can become another barrier of low-income Idahoans.
Credit: KTVB
File photo of the Idaho Statehouse.

BOISE, Idaho — Dozens of people from both sides of the hotly contested Medicaid expansion issue gathered for public testimony held by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare over whether the state should enact a Medicaid coverage choice waiver.

The waiver would allow people who earn between 100 and 138% of the Federal Poverty Level to either get insurance through a private insurance company or receive Medicaid coverage.

For example, a family of four with an annual income of $25,000 and $34,000 is between 100 and 138% of the Federal Poverty Level.

David Wilcox, the legislative director for the Idaho Association of Health Underwriters, says the waiver would allow people to continue choosing their own doctors and coverage.

The Idaho Association of Health Underwriters is part of a national association that represents and serves insurance agents, brokers, and other insurance professionals.

"If we don't pass this waiver they lose the right to choose their own doctor, to choose their own coverage, to choose their own insurance company," he said.

Wilcox supports the waiver because he says the waiver would protect Idaho taxpayers from footing the bill for those who may not be educated consumers.

"If it costs $50 to see the doctor and $500 to see the emergency room and the consumer doesn't see that difference, they may not make an educated choice," Wilcox said. "They may just choose to continually go to the $500 per visit facility versus the more economical $50 visit."

MORE: Idaho governor signs bill expanding Medicaid coverage

Reclaim Idaho, the group that pushed for the initiative that got Medicaid expansion on the ballot last year, says their fear of the waivers is that low-income families could end up paying more for private health insurance when they could receive coverage for free.

"Clean Medicaid expansion would put everyone under 138% of federal poverty level on Medicaid," Sam Sandmier with Reclaim Idaho said.

It took extending the 2019 legislative session for Idaho lawmakers to pass a bill to fund Medicaid expansion - with strings attached.

"Medicaid expansion is designed to help working families get health care coverage and this waiver puts another step in the way of people being able to access that Medicaid coverage," Sandmier said.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare will hold another opportunity for public testimony over the waiver on June 27 in Lewiston.

Idaho is required by law to hold these hearings and the federal government will take those comments into consideration when they make the final decision whether to approve or deny Idaho to enact a waiver.

However, there is no set time or date for the federal government to begin the process of reviewing Idaho's proposed Medicaid waivers.

RELATED: Legal concerns over work requirements in Idaho's approach to Medicaid expansion