Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's legislative proposal to provide healthcare to some of the state's poorest residents came to a halt Tuesday after it failed to generate enough support inside the GOP-dominant Statehouse.
Idaho's House on Tuesday agreed to send Otter's bill back to committee rather than ask representatives to vote on the merits of the bill and publicly state how they stand on the proposal.
Doing so signals for the sixth year in a row that GOP lawmakers once again have no appetite to address the state's so-called Medicaid gap population before the end of the legislative session — particularly in a year where every state lawmaker is up for re-election in May.
"I know this is difficult," said House Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Wood, a Republican who asked for the bill be returned to his committee. "I know 75% of the people in Idaho feel like the Legislature should do something, but unfortunately this doesn't appear to be what we can get the votes at this point in time."
Wood said he agreed to rescind the bill after consulting with legislative leaders and Otter, also a Republican, earlier that morning.
About 78,000 working Idahoans are believed to be in the gap population that earns too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for insurance subsidies.
Idaho could resolve this gap population by expanding Medicaid eligibility, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, but lawmakers have repeatedly rejected such efforts.
"How can we know the votes aren't there unless we take a vote? I know that my entire caucus is there," said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, a Democrat from Boise, in arguing against pulling the bill off the House floor. "This is deeply disappointing."
Just 15 of 68 lawmakers voted against sending the bill back to committee: all 11 House Democrats and four Republicans.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican, told reporters after the House adjourned said the bill did not have enough to secure a simple majority even with the help of the Democrats, but declined to say exact how many votes the measure lacked.
"Every year we have people come in to testify and cry," said Rep. Christy Perry, a Republican who is also running for the open 1st Congressional District seat. "I do believe after six years of work, that those people and the state of Idaho deserve a vote on this bill."
Rep. Eric Redman, a Republican who is retiring this year, added that lawmakers have no excuse to ignore the Medicaid gap population particularly because the majority of the Legislature has access to state-funded healthcare insurance.
Otter's bill would have provided coverage to roughly half of the health coverage gap population by seeking two federal waivers.
One waiver would allow low-income individuals to qualify for subsidies available to higher-income individuals. The other would expand Medicaid eligibility to pay for 12 serious and costly medical conditions.
The plan was to shift an estimated $200 million in medical claims from the private insurance market to the federal government, allowing private insurance premiums to be reduced by about 20%.
Otter is currently traveling in Washington D.C. His spokesman did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.