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'Ugly' Session Adds Momentum to Group Behind ID Medicaid Expansion

Supporters of Medicaid expansion gathered in Boise this session to oppose lawmakers' scaling back of the measure. (Reclaim Idaho)
Supporters of Medicaid expansion gathered in Boise this session to oppose lawmakers' scaling back of the measure. (Reclaim Idaho)
May 10, 2019

BOISE, Idaho – Attempts to curtail voter initiatives in the Idaho Legislature this year are invigorating the group behind Medicaid expansion.

Reclaim Idaho's massive mobilization to expand the federal health program garnered 61% approval in November, but lawmakers ended up watering down the ballot initiative by passing work requirements, potentially leaving thousands without coverage.

They also passed a bill making it much harder to put initiatives on the ballot. Rebecca Schroeder, executive director of Reclaim Idaho, calls it an "ugly" session.

"What was kind of a silver lining of this session is that as we fought those battles to protect Medicaid, and as we stood up and fought for our rights to organize initiatives, our supporters grew by almost five-fold, which was just incredible," says Schroeder.

Schroeder says Reclaim Idaho delivered nearly 12,000 signatures to Gov. Brad Little, urging him to veto the initiative bill, which ultimately worked.

Backers of the bill said the tougher requirements were needed to make sure rural areas wanted these initiatives.

In support of Medicaid work requirements, Little says they will encourage self-sufficiency. This measure still needs federal government approval to be implemented.

Reclaim Idaho plans to field candidates from both parties to challenge Republicans who supported the initiative bill and Medicaid work requirements. To ramp up for next year's election, the group is holding a series of summer town halls across the state on these topics.

Schroeder says they're calling it the "accountability campaign."

"In each one of these areas that we organize one of these town halls, we intend to mobilize huge teams of canvassers to get out into the communities and ensure that this isn't going away," says Schroeder. “I understand that one of the biggest risks that we run is letting all that energy fizzle away."

Schroeder notes that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say they saw unprecedented public input this legislative session. She adds that her group is considering introducing a 2020 ballot initiative at the end of the summer, but keeping the details under wraps until then.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID