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Eight counties in eastern Idaho are poised to give Eastern Idaho Public Health almost 34% more in funding than they typically would.

That’s the result of a bill state legislators passed this year that removes long-standing state funds for local public health agencies as part of a complex budgetary maneuver. Under the bill, HB 316, anyone who is eligible for any form of Medicaid or to purchase private health insurance and who doesn’t enroll or buy that insurance would be ineligible for assistance through the county indigent or state catastrophic health care programs. The bill assumes counties would save so much money that they can cover the state’s funding for local public health efforts.

The eastern Idaho counties, which include Bonneville, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Jefferson, Lemhi, Madison and Teton, approved about $380,000 in funds as a result of the bill. The counties also approved a combined $1.12 million in usual funds for the health district. Final budget approval came during a Thursday morning Eastern Idaho Public Health board meeting.

Eastern Idaho counties will give a combined total of $1.5 million to the regional public health agency during the 2022 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Idaho has seven regional health districts that in usual years work out of public view on issues such as sexual transmissible disease prevention and environmental health, among other things. Idaho Gov. Brad Little last spring tasked the local agency boards compromised of mostly county officials with the bulk of Idaho’s pandemic response measures.

Why are counties putting in a bigger share?

Idaho voters approved Medicaid expansion to include more low-income earners commonly called the working poor. The change took effect January 2020, enrolling 109,000 additional people by May 2021.

State legislators anticipated that as more people became insured, fewer people would be uninsured and need help paying steep emergency-related hospital bills.

The state and counties have a conjoined program that offers loans to people deemed medically indigent for emergencies. Counties cover bills up to $11,000, while the state’s catastrophic health fund helps with all costs above that. The state program last year didn’t save money as a result of expansion, but counties already started to see some savings, the Post Register previously reported.

A year in, Idaho is paying more for new Medicaid enrollees with expensive conditions

The state Legislature’s bill, called House Bill 316, relied on estimates that counties would eventually save $12 million a year as a result, and they would take over funding of public health districts — which would no longer receive their annual appropriation of state general funds, currently $9.8 million.

HB 316 takes effect March 1, 2022.

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel can be reached at 208-542-6754. Follow him on Twitter: @pfannyyy. He is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

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