Bill Would Expand Access to Family Planning Services
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Low-income women in Idaho would have access to important health and family planning services under a proposal that cleared a key hurdle Wednesday inside the Statehouse.
According to the measure, Idaho would seek federal permission — known as a waiver — to expand family planning services to women ages 19-44 who currently do not qualify for Medicare, Medicaid or other health care assistance programs. The waiver would seek to expand those services for five years with the federal government picking up the majority of the tab, though the state's total cost is expected to be $3.5 million.
In Idaho, most low-income women are only eligible to enroll in Medicaid if they become pregnant. They lose that coverage within 60 days of delivery.
"If we can reach women with the right resources and funding at the right time, it would be a win for everyone," said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, the bill's sponsor. "We can improve outcomes for women and their families and we can also save the state millions of dollars."
Medicaid currently funds more than 40 percent of all births in Idaho, with 50 percent of all infants going on to be enrolled in the program.
The House Health and Welfare Committee agreed to send HB 563 via a majority voice vote to the House floor despite concerns from some Republican members the bill would increase sexual promiscuity, while others objected to expanding government health care services in Idaho where funding would possibly go to Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Bryan Zollinger, a Republican from Idaho Falls, in particular focused the majority of his questions about Planned Parenthood's involvement in the program and if the clinic still provided abortions.
Planned Parenthood operates three clinics in Idaho and provides health care services to low-income Medicaid recipients — such as HPV vaccinations and vaginal exams. Medicaid dollars cannot be used to reimburse clinics like Planned Parenthood for abortions.
"I haven't heard anything else surrounding disease and other things associate with what I call 'casual sex' I guess," said Rep. Karey Hanks, a Republican from St. Anthony. "Is there any encouragement for abstinence?"
Public health officials responded they promote responsible sexual behavior and counsel men and women about the dangers of sexual transmitted diseases.
Family planning services include coverage for contraceptives, counseling, cancer screenings and depression screenings. It does not cover abortion.
"I believe Plan Idaho First will reduce abortions among women," said Russ Duke, director of the Central District Health Department.
An estimated 78,000 working Idahoans are believed to be in the gap population that earns too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for insurance subsidies. Idaho could resolve this gap population by expanding Medicaid eligibility, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, but Idaho's Republican lawmakers have repeatedly rejected such efforts.
Erpelding's so-called Plan First Idaho could apply to 15,000 women.
"If you don't like abortion, then the number one way to make abortion go away is to make unwanted pregnancies go away," said Republican Rep. Fred Wood, a retired physician and chair of the health and welfare panel, before voting in favor the measure.
It's rare for legislation to fail on the House floor once clearing a committee hearing. However, in the Republican-supermajority Statehouse, Democrat favored bills often face an uphill battle.
Furthermore, House lawmakers pulled back a proposal on Tuesday that would have provided roughly 38,000 Idahoans living in the Medicaid gap with coverage due to a lack of support from GOP members.