En­dors­ing Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion was not a flip, gover­nor says

The Idaho Statesman - - News - BY NATE POPPINO npop­pino@ida­hostates­man.com

Gov. Butch Ot­ter said Fri­day that his en­dorse­ment of Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion ahead of this week’s elec­tion was in line with years of ad­vo­cat­ing for ex­pand­ing gov­ern­ment health in­sur­ance ac­cess in some form.

And, he said, he doesn’t view his late en­dorse­ment as late. Ida­hoans for Health­care — the “yes” cam­paign for Propo­si­tion 2 — an­nounced Ot­ter’s sup­port on Oct. 30, one week be­fore Elec­tion Day.

“If the ques­tion is, did I flip? No. No, I didn’t,” he told the States­man shortly af­ter a lunch speech to the Boise Metro Cham­ber.

Ot­ter in­stead pointed to his years of pitch­ing Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion al­ter­na­tives to the Leg­is­la­ture, and to his early agree­ment with House and Se­nate lead­ers not to act on Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion through an ex­ec­u­tive or­der. He also noted his work to cre­ate a state-run health in­sur­ance ex­change un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act; at the time, he made na­tional news as a rare Repub­li­can gover­nor pur­su­ing that course.

“As you’ll re­call, that in­sur­ance ex­change was a heavy lift, and I ended up with a pretty tough pri­mary a cou­ple of years af­ter that be­cause I cre­ated a state in­sur­ance ex­change,” Ot­ter said.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years, Ot­ter and his depart­ment heads tried to de­velop “an Idaho so­lu­tion” — lim­ited steps that might be more palat­able to law­mak­ers and still help Ida­hoans who can’t af­ford health in­sur­ance.

He and Gov.-elect Brad Lit­tle also raised eye­brows early this year with an ex­ec­u­tive or­der seek­ing to al­low in­sur­ance plans that drop some as­pects of the ACA. Na­tional ex­perts deemed it likely il­le­gal, and while ne­go­ti­a­tions with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment con­tinue, that ef­fort has not suc­ceeded so far.

“A few leg­is­la­tors that voted against my dual waiver [one of the al­ter­nate pro­pos­als] last year ... have called and said we made a mis­take, we should have ac­cepted that,” Ot­ter said.

Ot­ter and his wife, Lori, both signed the Propo­si­tion 2 pe­ti­tion, he said. A few weeks be­fore Tues­day’s elec­tion, they reached out to Ida­hoans for Health­care and of­fered their sup­port, he said.

“This was the only game left in town” af­ter the leg­isla­tive fail­ures, he said. A ci­ti­zen-run ini­tia­tive ap­pealed to him, he added. “And so I’m be­hind the peo­ple. Let’s pe­ti­tion our gov­ern­ment.”

Ot­ter’s en­dorse­ment still sur­prised many, es­pe­cially again on the na­tional level.

Jef­fer­son Kem­per is the cam­paign man­ager for Ida­hoans for Health­care. He said in a Fri­day phone in­ter­view that the Ot­ters con­tacted the cam­paign, “say­ing, ‘We’ve been sup­port­ers of clos­ing the gap the whole time and we would like to help if we can.’ ”

In­clud­ing the cou­ple in ads and other out­reach took some time, he said. But in his view, the tim­ing one week be­fore Elec­tion Day worked well, even in a year with heavy early vot­ing.

“Gov. Ot­ter com­ing out in sup­port of full Med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion let vot­ers know that this is a fis­cally con­ser­va­tive choice, that vot­ing for med­ic­aid ex­pan­sion is the right thing for our state,” Kem­per said. “... I think it made a huge im­pact for Gov. Ot­ter to weigh in at the time that he did, and I hope that it will re­in­force the com­mit­ment that Gov.-elect Brad Lit­tle has made, which is to im­ple­ment and sup­port the will of the peo­ple on this is­sue.”

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