On Monday, Feb. 4, at noon, hundreds will gather on the steps of the Capitol with a simple message: It’s time for our legislators to honor the will of the voters and fund Medicaid expansion without restrictions.
Proposition 2—the citizens’ initiative to extend healthcare to 62,000 Idahoans who desperately need it—did not win by a bare majority of the vote; it won by a landslide.
Over 60 percent of votes cast were for Medicaid expansion, and it won a majority of votes in 35 of Idaho’s 44 counties. This includes Idaho’s five most populous counties (Ada, Canyon, Kootenai, Bonneville, Bannock) and Idaho’s five least populous counties (Camas, Clark, Butte, Lewis, Adams).
In an era when TV pundits and political commentators speak constantly of the divide between rural and urban America, Prop 2 proved that citizens can still find common ground.
Prop 2 also won a majority in 29 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, and it didn’t matter whether a district was Democratic or Republican. Of the 29 districts that voted for Medicaid expansion, 4 were represented exclusively by Democrats and 22 were represented exclusively by Republicans.
It’s not often that the citizens of Idaho declare their will so resoundingly. In our representative republic, the role of the citizen is usually limited to the simple act of voting for representatives. Rather than declare their will on every legislative proposal, citizens most often delegate the task of legislating to their representatives.
But every so often in the course of Idaho history, ordinary citizens recognize a crisis that their representatives have neglected. In such extraordinary moments, citizens decide to reclaim their right to self-government.
Idaho’s “Medicaid gap” was precisely the type of crisis the initiative process was designed to address. For years, poll after poll showed that the vast majority of Idahoans wanted their government to do something. And yet, even as 62,000 Idahoans suffered without health insurance, Idaho legislators would not act.
Then, with the power vested in them by Article III of the Idaho Constitution, the citizens of Idaho dared to initiate and enact their own law. For a brief moment on Election Day, thousands of ordinary Idaho citizens became their own lawmakers.
Now that the people have taken action, the role of our legislators is simple: Appropriate the state dollars required to implement Medicaid Expansion.
Ninety percent of the costs of expansion will be covered by the federal government. The state of Idaho is responsible for only 10%, which adds up to $10.8 million. As Gov. Little has noted in his budget proposal, this small sum can easily be drawn from the Millennium Fund, Idaho's tobacco-settlement endowment. The committee that oversees that fund recently concurred with the governor’s proposal.
There is no excuse for inaction. The people have spoken. The money is there. I hope you'll join us on the steps of the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 4 at noon, as we call on our legislators to honor the will of the voters.
Luke Mayville is a co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, the organization that launched the petition drive to expand Medicaid in Idaho.