On expanding Medicaid in Idaho

March 19, 2019

“The Voice of the People has Spoken.”

And I used to be a really nice person. My mother would be so disappointed in how I’ve turned out. I’m crotchety, bad-tempered, and generally obnoxious.

I blame it on the Legislature. It can be a torrid dervish of conflicting emotions. Let me give you an example. Before I do, I want to remind you that “The Voice of the People has Spoken.” Medicaid expansion, an issue that seems to be on everyone’s minds, is one of the perpetrators.

First, and foremost, it became the law of the land when passed on November 6, 2018. The anxious debate is now on what form it will take going forward. The Legislature could still vote to abolish it but that won’t happen. “The Voice of the People has Spoken.” As of today there are not enough votes to get rid of it and there are not enough votes to pass it without any restrictions. A compromise of some sort needs to happen. A meeting in the middle. Right now, it is inciting consternation because no one wants to move their position.

I’m on record, with the majority caucus and the House, that I will be voting for it, with or without restrictions. It needs to get endorsed and funded; after all, “The Voice of the People has Spoken.” I will also do everything in my power to see that it is successful and beneficial.

It all reminds me of when I was younger and working on my Uncle Cecil’s farm. One of the many things he did was to raise pigs. Periodically one of his sows gave birth to a large litter. When they got to be about 30 to 40 pounds it was time to castrate the males.

My job was to catch the appropriate critter, flip it on its back, kneel over it as I faced rearward, and put a small amount of pressure on his chest with my rear. Then I would grab a rear leg with each hand and hold on tight. If my hand slipped off at any time during the operation my uncle would get pummeled, and strangely, that didn’t make him happy. After I had a good grip, Cecil opened his trusty pocket knife and began the operation.

Now the difficulty was not this wrestling portion but the unsettling, maniacal screaming from the pig. It was always amazing to witness how loud and long they could screech. After Cecil was finished he had a blue, round, cardboard container of Morton salt which he poured liberally into the wound to help it avoid infection. At that point, the decibels increased exponentially. (I still can’t hear that figure of speech — pouring salt into a wound — without hearing that gut wrenching squealing.)

“The Voice of the People has Spoken,” and because of that we will expand Medicaid to a much larger population. But with that passage comes an ominous warning. When initiated in Montana, whose has very similar demographics as Idaho, they estimated the cost to be $450 million, the same number we came up with for Idaho. After the first year it was $800 million.

In 1990 Idaho spent $533 million for Medicaid, or 17.3% of our total spending. On Monday the Senate approved a budget for Medicaid of $2.83 Billion, or 29.4% of total spending. (Not including a $53 million supplemental spending bill yet to be approved for this year) Has our state’s population increased by that same percentage? This spending is on an unsustainable trajectory.

The saddest part of this tale is told in the literally thousands of emails, cards, letters and phone calls that I’ve received regarding Medicaid expansion. They are angry, demanding and threatening. Stupefyingly and tragically not one, not one single one, has expressed the tiniest bit of gratitude for the fact that someone else will be paying for every penny of their health care. It’s a massive sense of entitlement. My mother taught me that when someone gave me something that was theirs, even an insignificant stick of gum, that I was to say thank you. Don’t thank me, but thank someone, thank anyone.

Early on in my life I had people want to borrow money from me. Every time the strangest thing happened. The moment they got the money it was theirs and I was a degenerate human if I tried to get it back. Never “thanks for helping me out.” It was their money now and insulting for them to even have to deal with me. Always an immediate sense of entitlement. I finally learned my lesson.

So I admire the state for wanting to help. The citizens are truly a compassionate and loving group. But where does it end? The rapidly increasing budgets are not in the beleaguered taxpayers favor. But, “The Voice of the People has Spoken.” There will certainly be requests for more. That piercing, penetrating squeal you hear in the background, is not my Uncle’s pig.

This column was submitted by state Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom.