Today’s hearing has wrapped up, after 30 people offered testimony: 27 of them opposed to the proposed federal waiver application for work-reporting requirements, and three in favor. You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Wednesday's edition of the Idaho Press.
The three who spoke in favor were Machele Hamilton of Nampa, chair of the Canyon County Republican Central Committee; Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Idaho Freedom Foundation; and Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa. Vander Woude was among five state legislators offering testimony today; he was the only one supporting the requirement. He also was its lead sponsor.
“I don’t think it’s overburdensome,” Vander Woude said. “I think we’ve made enough exemptions in the work requirements. … Medicaid expansion was, this is for the working poor, those who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and not enough money to qualify for the subsidies on the insurance exchange. So I’m just baffled at times that we’re fighting so hard on work requirements. This is for the working poor. These people are already working. So I don’t know what the issue is, I think it’s a responsible way of implementing the program. I’ve talked to the governor’s office to try to make sure that the paperwork is less intrusive as possible … that we’re not placing an extra burden on people and that we’re not trying to just keep those people from getting their medical insurance. … I think it’s a good idea to go this route. I think if it doesn’t work or if we have problems, we’ll continue to work on fixing it.”
State legislators testifying against the waiver included Reps. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise; Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; and Sue Chew, D-Boise.
“I firmly stand in opposition to the waiver because the purpose of Medicaid is to provide, as we’ve heard over and over again, health care for low-income individuals,” Wintrow said. “It’s not to create systems to track people’s work hours and create an undue burden.” She said the proposal amounts to requiring “working people to report their hours as if they’re on probation.”
“I can tell you, working in government, I have never seen any easy paperwork in government, not one,” Wintrow said. “It’s not really about work, it’s about reporting.”
Among others testifying against the proposed waiver were doctors and other health care professionals; citizens who have suffered health problems; parents; business owners; people currently living in Idaho’s health coverage gap; and advocates.
“The proposed work requirements are counter-intuitive, as access to health care is a pathway to work, not vice versa,” said Diana Braskich, 35, a lifelong Coeur d’Alene resident who offered her testimony by phone. She pointed to her own situation, in which she lost her job after being diagnosed with serious pregnancy complications. She’s now back at work part-time. “The work requirements help no one,” she said.
Brenda Foster said, “Please do not go forward with this burden to Medicaid expansion in Idaho. It’s a costly bureaucratic burden for our government and our taxpayers. … For me it’s heartbreaking to feel that the burden of proof would be shoved off onto our most vulnerable citizens. So I hope we can implement a clean Medicaid expansion, the one people voted for. I think it would be the most efficient and the most effective.”
Adam Jacobs of Rexburg, who testified by phone, said he’s a married father of three and soon to be four. “My family has lived within the Medicaid gap for some time,” he said. “I have a full-time job as well as two other jobs that I work to try to make ends meet. But health care insurance is extremely expensive, even for hard-working Americans like myself.” He said he voted for Medicaid expansion to close the state’s coverage gap. But restrictions, he said, “I believe are hurtful to Idahoans by creating more hurdles to jump and more loopholes to have to find to go through. It’s only preventing people from getting access to health care.”
Jacobs said the restrictions appear to him to be political efforts only. “Hear the voice of Idaho people,” he said, “that we want expansion — no gimmicks.”
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.