Idaho's GOP governor endorses Medicaid expansion ballot measure

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, endorsed a grass-roots effort to expand Medicaid in his state on Tuesd...

Posted: Oct 31, 2018 9:12 AM
Updated: Oct 31, 2018 9:12 AM

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, endorsed a grass-roots effort to expand Medicaid in his state on Tuesday.

The initiative, which will appear on the November 6 ballot, would extend Medicaid to 62,000 adults in poverty and bring $400 million in federal match funding to the state. Another 29,000 residents just above the poverty line would also be made eligible for Medicaid if the measure passes.

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"I strongly support expanding healthcare to folks who need it," Otter said in a news release from Idahoans for Healthcare, which is spearheading the effort. "It's good sense and it's the right thing to do."

Otter had backed previous proposals to expand Medicaid, but they ultimately died in the state Legislature.

The governor, who is not running for re-election, also appeared in an ad endorsing the measure, saying, "Proposition 2 is an Idaho-grown solution." The spot also features his wife, Lori, saying that expansion would help rural hospitals, boost the economy and create jobs.

Idaho is one of four states that will have Medicaid initiatives on their ballots next week. Voters in Utah and Nebraska will decide whether to accept the Affordable Care Act's provision to expand Medicaid, while those who live in Montana will vote on whether to maintain the expansion beyond July 2019.

Idaho's Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is running on the Republican ticket to succeed Otter, said he "will adhere to the will of the people on this issue." His Democratic opponent, former lawmaker Paulette Jordan, has endorsed the initiative.

The campaign in Idaho began when two high school friends and one's wife toured the state last summer in a bright green 1977 Dodge camper -- with "Medicaid for Idaho" emblazoned on the side. They were trying to raise support for expanding Medicaid by talking about those who earn too much to qualify for the safety net program but can't afford coverage on the Obamacare insurance exchanges.

The ballot measures in the four states come a year after Maine's residents gave the thumbs-up to expansion by 59% to 41% in a first-of-its-kind referendum. However, it has yet to go into effect there as Republican Gov. Paul LePage continues to resist implementing it.

Some 31 states plus the District of Columbia have already expanded Medicaid, which broadens coverage to Americans with incomes up to 138% of the poverty level, or about $17,000 for an individual and $35,000 for a family of four. Virginia will join the club in 2019, after lawmakers there approved the expansion earlier this year.

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