Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter gave his final State of the State and Budget Address on Monday, January 8, 2018. Below is a recap of the healthcare portion of his address which focused in large part on affordability and accessibility:
The governor opened his healthcare remarks by declaring that Idaho’s healthcare sector has led the state’s employment growth during his 12 years in office, adding more than 26,300 jobs since 2007. Healthcare accounted for 46 percent of the state’s overall job growth and 13 percent of total employment. He said that this raises two public policy debates for the coming decades: how do we make healthcare more accessible and affordable, and how do we ensure employers have enough skilled workers to meet Idaho’s needs, especially in healthcare and other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields.
The governor also talked about the need for predictability in planning. But, he said, “When it comes to healthcare, the federal government seems to be going the extra mile to ensure that Idaho and other states have no certainty at all about what the future holds.” After many proposals for making healthcare in Idaho more accessible and coverage more affordable, the governor said he was making one last try.
The Idaho Health Care Plan
The governor will be putting forth for the legislature’s consideration, the Idaho Health Care Plan – a proposal that he said, “Would stabilize Idaho’s healthcare insurance market and give more working Idaho families the ability to purchase affordable coverage.” The plan enables people with the more costly and complex medical conditions to move their coverage to Medicaid. This will allow insurance companies to reduce premium rates for most people who remain in the individual marketplace. The governor was quick to point out that this plan is not an expansion of Medicaid. Rather, it’s a way to provide Idaho’s working families who have modest incomes a more affordable way to get the coverage they need. The plan calls for $17.4 million from the General Fund and another $11.4 million from the Millennium Fund.
Seeing affordability and accessibility as among the central public policy challenges of our time, the governor also addressed Idaho’s last-in-the-nation ranking in the number of primary care physicians per capita, especially in the rural parts of our state. He addressed the opening of Idaho’s first medical school – the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM). The school, which is working with Idaho State University and other stakeholders, is committed to bringing more physician-residency opportunities to Idaho. His budget also contains a request for funding for 11 new residencies at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls and Bingham Memorial Hospital in Blackfoot. This is in addition to efforts since 2013 to fund medical school seats for Idaho students through the regional WWAMI program where there are currently 40 seats dedicated to Idaho students – twice as many as when the governor took office.
The governor thanked the legislature for their support of the creation of behavioral health crisis centers in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, and Boise. His budget asks for $2.6 million to create additional crisis centers in Lewiston, Nampa-Caldwell, and Pocatello that will help alleviate the costly use of emergency rooms and jail cells to address behavioral health challenges.
The governor concluded the healthcare portion of his address by affirming that having healthcare professionals in a community is “one of the factors that can determine a community’s success in developing its local economy by attracting and growing businesses that provide good-paying jobs.”