Idaho legislature proposes new bill to close health coverage gap

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By: Patrick Kaufmann

The Health and Welfare Committee introduced legislation on Tuesday, Jan. 16 to provide health coverage subsidies for Idaho residents with low income and expand Medicaid coverage for serious illnesses.  

In its current state, the Idaho Health Care Plan proposed in House Bill 338 will create some flexibility within the Idaho insurance exchange and the current Medicaid program. This proposal will allow lower income individuals to shop for insurance in the private health insurance market and receive the tax credit advanced payment available to higher earners.

The plan will also increase flexibility for those on Medicaid to receive treatment for a variety of complex medical conditions.    

“Students who are interested in seeing improvements to the current health care plans should get involved by contacting their representatives and voicing their concerns,” said Lori Wolff, the deputy director for the Idaho department of Health and Welfare.

Wolff expects some level of opposition to the proposal because many are simply not aware of what the current law allows or whom this proposal is intended to help. Lack of a thorough understanding may also have led to previous inaction that failed to increase coverage at a rate proportionate to the rises in insurance costs.

The result was that Idaho residents with an income lower than the federally designated poverty level are not currently eligible for subsidies offered to those earning more. That population of nearly 80,000 people, however, make too much to qualify for Medicaid here in Idaho.

Sue Finney, a social work senior, works with a movement on campus that is gathering signatures to petition the state of Idaho for Medicaid expansions.   

“Medicaid limitations do not just affect people who are poor, indigent or suffer from mental illness,” Finney said. “It affects working people who earn between $16-24,000 annually, or just above the federal poverty line, a group that includes some of the students here.”

Hearings on H.B. 338 will take place in early February, after which the bill will be voted on, and if passed, the legislation will go into effect later this year. This plan has been in development for four years, and its proposals were first discussed in the state legislature in February of 2017.

The new health care plan will reassign some of the financial responsibility from private insurers to the federal government, allowing for a reduction of insurance premiums by 20 percent and lowering out-of-pocket expenses for students and their families.  

Students who are enrolled in at least six credits may apply for the S.H.I.P., or the Student Health Insurance Plan (S.H.I.P), which is sponsored by Boise State, and the cost per covered student is $291.84 each month. There are also supplementary plans which include options to meet dental and vision health care needs as well.  

“I believe everyone should protect themselves from unexpected mental health and medical expenses they may encounter.  Having worked in healthcare for a while, I’ve seen how something like a broken leg can cause significant financial distress,” said Tara Brooks, the office manager for University Health Services.  

“Over the past few years, Health Services has seen more students who are unable to afford the care they need,” Brooks said. “This may be due to them not having insurance or because they can’t afford the out of pocket costs their plan has, such as deductibles or co-pays. We routinely work with students who find themselves in these circumstances to ensure they get the care they need to be academically successful.”

The S.H.I.P. is voluntary, however it offers cost benefits to students in the form of no co-pays and no deductibles when eligible service are received at health services.  As of publication, there are 186 students enrolled in the S.H.I.P.  

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