To kick off the Idaho legislative session, Gov. Brad Little gave his 2021 State of the State and Budget address on Monday. The coalition Close the Gap Idaho says the governor's budget doesn't do enough to protect health care.
In his speech, Little praised Idaho's efforts to control COVID-19. Christine Tiddens is director of Idaho Voices for Children, which is part of Close the Gap Idaho. She pointed to one line in Little's address about elevating health care capacity so Idahoans could continue to access care during the pandemic and said the governor isn't following through.
"Simply put, there's no hole in the Medicaid budget to fill. Thanks to federal Medicaid relief, Idaho can fully fund Medicaid during the pandemic and economic recovery," Tiddens said. "So my question is, why wouldn't we use the funding intended to relieve the Medicaid budget for the Medicaid budget?"
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is proposing a $30 million cost-saving measure for the program due to higher utilization rates than expected. Tiddens said that isn't necessary. According to Close the Gap Idaho, $50 million intended for Medicaid in the state will be unspent at the end of fiscal year 2021, and the federal government has provided another $54 million to the program for relief during the pandemic.
Idaho expanded Medicaid in 2020 to about 100,000 residents. Tiddens said it could not have come at a better time.
"The COVID pandemic has really taken its toll on families already living paycheck-to-paycheck," she said. "Medicaid expansion is providing relief for Idahoans who have recently lost job-based health coverage until they get back up on their feet."
Medicaid expansion also has helped families beyond the pandemic. Nichole Stull said with expansion, she and her husband were able to get health coverage. Her husband got his first physical in five years and found out he had high blood pressure and sleep apnea. She said he now has a C-PAP machine to help him breathe at night.
"That oxygen is helping his heart and his brain and the rest of his body be able to react how it should," Stull said. "Without Medicaid expansion, this wouldn't have been possible, and, quite honestly, we were headed down a road where I was going to lose my husband."