Medicaid Rally

Supporters cheer in favor of a medicaid expansion initiative during a July 6 rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Boise.

Medicaid expansion opponents have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Idaho’s recently passed voter initiative.

The suit doesn’t come as a surprise. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which helped lead much of the opposition to Proposition 2, said the day after voters passed the initiative earlier this month that it planned to take steps to block it.

Brent Regan, Kootenai County Republican Central Committee chairman and head of the Freedom Foundation’s board of directors, is the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Idaho Falls’ Bryan Smith, who is active in Bonneville County Republican politics, is his lawyer. Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, whose office is in charge of amending Idaho code to include Proposition 2, is named as the respondent.

The suit, which was filed Wednesday in state Supreme Court, contends the initiative violates the Idaho Constitution by delegating too much power to the federal government and state Department of Health and Welfare. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost of the expansion, and the proposition doesn’t say what would happen if this changes.

“In essence, Proposition 2 has delegated to the federal government for its future determination Idaho’s percentage of financial contribution and therefore Idaho’s share of the costs Idaho will be forced to pay for Medicaid expansion,” the filing says.

The suit also says the measure gives Health and Welfare too much power to override any conflicting laws in setting the regulations to implement Medicaid expansion. Proposition 2 says the department can “take all actions necessary,” which the suit contends is an illegal delegation of lawmaking authority to the department.

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Luke Mayville

Luke Mayville, the main organizer of the petition drive to get Medicaid expansion on the ballot and the subsequent effort to get it passed, was confident the courts would uphold Proposition 2. The language, he said, is “perfectly aligned” with the law in the more than 30 states that have expanded Medicaid already.

“We view the lawsuit as a political stunt,” Mayville said. “It’s unfortunate to see the Idaho Freedom Foundation continue to play political games with people’s health care. Medicaid expansion was approved by Idaho voters with over 60 percent of the vote. The IFF has already lost the argument with the voters and now they’re almost certain to lose the argument with the courts.”

The proposition would expand Medicaid coverage to everyone making up to 138 percent of the poverty level. The Affordable Care Act originally was designed to require every state to expand Medicaid, but a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it a state option. In states that didn’t expand, that created a “Medicaid gap” group of people who didn’t qualify for traditional Medicaid but didn’t make enough to qualify for subsidized insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges. Whether and how to extend coverage to the estimated 51,000 to 62,000 Idahoans in the gap has been a hotly debated issue since then.

As well as Idaho, Utah and Nebraska voters passed ballot measures this month expanding Medicaid, while a popular vote on extending Montana’s existing Medicaid expansion failed. Maine and Kansas are also expected to expand Medicaid next year, having elected Democratic governors who support it.

If this lawsuit fails, the Idaho Legislature will take up funding and implementing the expansion when it convenes in January. While many Republican lawmakers opposed expansion, citing concerns about the cost and about the idea of the government paying for health care for often able-bodied poor adults, some of them also said they would respect the outcome if the voters passed it. Incoming Gov. Brad Little, who never took an explicit for-or-against stance on Proposition 2, has said the same thing.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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