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Free government health care for able-bodied adults already busting budgets

You’ve been had, Idaho. Bamboozled. Fooled. Hoodwinked. And your kids, my kids and our grandkids are going to pay the price for this massive deception. But there’s still a faint glimmer of hope if Idaho lawmakers take decisive action during the 2021 legislative session.

I’m talking about Medicaid expansion, the government program that gives free health care to able-bodied adults who don’t make very much money. You remember the expansion fight, right? It was one for the ages because one side of the debate tugged on your heartstrings in hopes that you wouldn’t see their awful math and sly distortions.

Remember back to former Republican Gov. Butch Otter exhorting Idahoans to do the right thing in the 2018 election, when expansion graced the ballot. Otter, never a fiscal conservative, told us expansion was an Idaho solution. He hailed it as fiscally conservative. He told us the expansion of state-run health care would bring money back to the economy. Otter was wrong on all three counts. Medicaid expansion was a big government plan hatched in the smoke-filled back rooms in D.C., and the plan always required deficit spending.

Opponents of the plan continually beat the drum against the price tag. They sounded the alarm about coming overages, which would only burden the state budget and add to the national debt. Few listened.

Why? In part, because the industry wanted the payday, so they invested a small fortune — more than $1 million — to fuel a carpet-bombing ad campaign in Idaho. For weeks, pro-government health care ads filled the airwaves, and expensive mailers occupied mailboxes. Opponents couldn’t come close to matching the efforts.

But opponents were 100% right. Medicaid expansion has a huge price tag, bigger than even the most cynical opponents expected. Recent research published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation shows that for fiscal years 2021 and 2022, Medicaid expansion costs will come in more than $800 million higher than Milliman, the state’s cost forecasting firm, expected. Some people claimed Milliman was the gold standard in prognostication. It turns out, $800 million is a lot of gold.

Let’s say that again for emphasis: Medicaid expansion, in its earliest stages, is already expected to cost almost $1 billion more than originally projected. And we’re just beginning. And no, very little of the extra spending is related to the COVID-19 crisis. Instead, according to IFF Legislative Affairs Director Fred Birnbaum, higher per-patient costs drive this massive surge in health care spending.

Legislators should thank their lucky stars that the federal government pays 90% of expansion costs with the state picking up the rest. Otherwise, the state budget would be in shambles. We’re so fortunate in Idaho. We need to squeeze only another $80 million from Idaho taxpayers.

Still, lawmakers need to do something to stop this fiscal train wreck. Otherwise, Idaho will shovel more onto the national debt, a sum that will eventually be extracted from future generations.

Sadly, expansion repeal is likely dead on arrival in the Statehouse, mostly due to the impotent state Senate. At a minimum, legislators should limit the expansion appropriation, which would save gobs of cash and prove Idaho won’t go along with burdening our kids and grandkids with debt.

Now that’s an Idaho solution I can get behind.

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