whitlock sc

Brian Whitlock, president of the Idaho Hospital Association, was among an array of people raising concerns about HB 316, major health care funding legislation, in the Senate Health & Welfare Committee on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

Support Local Journalism


HB 316, the House-passed bill to dial back the state’s indigent care and catastrophic health care program and change the funding of Idaho public health districts, ran into big trouble during a Senate committee hearing this afternoon, and is headed for the Senate’s 14th Order for amendments. Under the bill, anyone who is eligible for any form of Medicaid or to purchase private health insurance and who doesn’t enroll or buy that insurance would be ineligible for assistance through the county indigent or state catastrophic health care programs. The bill estimates that counties would eventually save $12 million a year as a result, and they would take over funding of public health districts — which would no longer receive their annual appropriation of state general funds, currently $9.8 million.

At today’s Senate Health & Welfare Committee hearing, the bill drew opposition from an array of Idaho hospitals and also from some county commissioners, including Ada County Commission Chairman Rod Beck, who said the bill would be a financial gainer for his county, various aspects of it would be problematic. Idaho’s rural hospitals could be driven out of business by the changes, many said.

Brian Whitlock, president of the Idaho Hospital Association, said the bill violates existing law that says the state will provide for medically indigent residents, and instead shifts all uncompensated medical costs to hospitals. He estimated that could come to $30 million or more this year, and urged the committee not to pass the bill and hit Idaho’s hospitals with that amid a pandemic. He also said hospitals weren’t given time to study the proposal when it was swiftly introduced and passed in the House earlier in the session.

“Our concern is that it will have an extremely negative impact,” he said. “The bill basically says upon signature of the governor, hospitals, doesn’t matter that you haven’t budgeted, doesn’t matter that you haven’t hired the staff, doesn’t matter that you don’t have the facilities available to handle all this – that you get this responsibility. … I think the hospitals deserve an opportunity to have some input on this bill.”

David Lehman, lobbyist for Bingham Memorial Hospital, told the committee, “Critical access hospitals over this past year have been in a very precarious position. … This is really a gut-punch to those community hospitals where they don’t have high volumes, and they can’t make up the cost of care for these individuals by charging higher fees or trying to recruit more business into their doors.”

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, the bill’s lead sponsor, urged the Senate panel not to amend the bill, and said the only amendment he’d support is one to put off the effective date until next Jan. 1. “That gives ‘em a time frame to figure it all out and know what’s going to happen by January next year,” he said.

Senate Health & Welfare Chairman Fred Martin, R-Boise, asked him if, in that case, “Would it make sense to hold the bill until January of 2022 … and then make it the first bill that we look at?

“I would not be in favor of that,” Vander Woude responded. “That’s basically killing the bill.”

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, moved to send HB 316 to the 14th Order for possible amendment, and urged all sides to come to the table to work out their differences over the bill. “I think moving this to the 14th Order will get everyone to the table,” she said. Lee’s motion passed on a party-line vote, with Sens. Wintrow and Stennett dissenting.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

Load comments