A group hoping to expand Medicaid in Idaho will kick off its campaign in Blaine County this week, hosting two open houses to recruit the signatures to put the issue on the ballot this year.

     Medicaid for Idaho, a division of Reclaim Idaho, will hold events on Thursday, Jan. 4, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at The Smokey Bone in Hailey, and Friday, Jan 5, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Leadville Espresso House in Ketchum.

     Its goal: to close the so-called Medicaid gap, which consists of people who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to receive federal help buying insurance.

     The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which is pursuing a separate plan to fill the gap, puts that number at 78,000 Idahoans. Others estimate it lower; Close the Gap Idaho, an organization aiming to expand insurance access, puts the number between 51,000 and 62,000.

     Around 700 live in Blaine County, according to Medicaid for Idaho’s Blaine County leader Molly Page, of Hailey.

     Per Idaho statute, it takes signatures from 6 percent of registered voters to get the question on the ballot. That’s about 56,000—and around 2,000 need to come from Blaine, Page said.

     “I’d like to get a lot of signatures as early as possible,” Page said. “If we have to knock on doors, we’ll do that. We’d rather build momentum right away.”

     That push started last summer, when Luke Mayville and Garrett Strizich of Reclaim Idaho rolled through Hailey in the Medicaid Mobile, a green camper van that toured the state to drum up support.

     “We heard heart-wrenching stories—young single mothers working two and three jobs to cover medical bills of relatives while also trying to raise children, cashiers and cooks who fell into the Medicaid gap as soon as they found employment, people who will leave this state they love, simply because they can’t find affordable health care,” Mayville said of the tour.

     Taking advantage of a key provision of the Affordable Care Act, 31 states and Washington, D.C., have expanded their Medicaid programs. Idaho missed the window many took: Through 2016, the federal government covered the entire cost of the expansion. Now, it comes with a 90-10 split between D.C. and Boise. 

     But emboldened by the success of a similar measure in Maine, the group hopes to bypass the Legislature.

     “When we first started, we were saying, ‘A ballot initiative—wow. Maybe someday we can do that’,” Page said. “But when the tour wrapped up, and we saw what happened in Maine, we thought, ‘We can do this.’ It’s an exciting time.” 

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