Share story

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is supporting an expansion of Medicaid in the state, calling it good sense and the right thing to do.

The Republican on Tuesday started appearing in an ad urging voters to approve an initiative called Proposition 2 on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“Allowing the health care coverage gap to persist any longer is not an option,” he said in a statement.

An estimated 62,000 working Idahoans are believed to be in a gap population that earns too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for insurance subsidies.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. government pays at least 90 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid while states pick up the rest. Despite the savings promoted by Medicaid expansion supporters, Idaho lawmakers have long refused to consider the idea while also failing to come up with a solution to provide health coverage for Idahoans who currently don’t qualify for Medicaid or earn too much for a subsidy.

So after years of opposition from Republican state lawmakers, activists succeeded in getting Medicaid expansion on the ballot this year.

“We cannot continue to let hardworking Idahoans go without health care,” said Otter, who is in the last few months of his third and final term as governor. “Proposition 2 will provide health care to 62,000 Idahoans, and it’ll bring $400 million of our tax dollars back to Idaho. In addition, Proposition 2 will keep our rural hospitals and county clinics open.”

If the initiative is successful, Idaho would join 32 other states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act. Nebraska and Utah are currently in the midst of similar ballot initiatives, and Maine passed one last year.

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, in a statement reiterated his opposition to expanding Medicaid. “Proposition 2’s Obamacare expansion is unsustainable, fiscally irresponsible, and wrong for Idaho,” he said.

The primary argument against expansion has been that accepting federal dollars only comes with regulatory burdens that do not help lower the growing costs of medical care. Instead, Idaho Republicans have floated a variety of modest health care solutions to improve medical access to the state’s poorest residents. Those ideas have largely failed to take hold.

In the race for the next Idaho governor, Republican Lt. Gov. Brad Little has declined to say how he will vote on Proposition 2 despite repeated questions from reporters and debate moderators. He has said he’ll uphold the will of the voters.

Democrat Paulette Jordan, a former state lawmaker and member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council, strongly supports Medicaid expansion, which she, like Otter, said would save $400 million in the first year.