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Dozens of volunteers celebrate gathering the last signatures needed in Canyon County last week, which they hope will get Medicaid expansion on ballots this fall.

Organizers of a campaign to put Medicaid expansion before Idaho voters this fall say they’ve got enough signatures to qualify for ballots.

On Monday, Medicaid for Idaho submitted more than 60,000 signatures to county clerks in 18 legislative districts. That met the May 1 deadline, as required by state law.

The clerks have a June 30 deadline to confirm that the signatures are valid, which would place the initiative on statewide ballots this fall.

The campaign had to gather 56,000 signatures from 18 legislative districts, which would represent 6 percent of the total number of registered voters.

If the signatures are valid, the initiative will be placed before voters in the Nov. 6 general election.

If passed by a majority of voters, the initiative requires Idaho to expand Medicaid to eligible residents under 65 who earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

In 2018, the federal poverty level in Idaho is $12,140 for an individual annually, $16,460 for a family of two and $20,780 for a family of three. The amounts increase for each additional member of a family beyond that.

Idaho has about 62,000 residents who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid under the current rules yet earn too little to get subsidized care under the Affordable Care Act.

A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act gave states the option of expanding Medicaid. Idaho has declined to do so. The federal government will pay for 90 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid in Idaho.

The campaign is run by Medicaid for Idaho, which is backed by a northern Idaho-based volunteer group called Reclaim Idaho.

“This initiative would bring health-care coverage to those who need it the most, and it will allow Idahoans to decide what we want in our health-care system, no matter what politicians in Boise or Washington, D.C., do,” Emily Strizich, a co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, said in a news release. “These are moms and dads who work hard in jobs that don’t provide health coverage, and people who are nearing retirement who have lost their jobs.”

Verifying the signatures is a key hurdle. A proposed campaign-finance reform initiative in 2016 failed to make the ballot because about half its signatures were thrown out.

Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville told the Spokesman-Review newspaper that 40,000 signatures have already been verified, and he was confident the Medicaid expansion campaign collected more than 60,000 valid signatures.

Teams of volunteers organized in Blaine County and collected signatures at post offices, grocery stores, coffee shops, bookstores and in neighborhoods, said Molly Page, a Hailey resident, volunteer and campaign organizer. She said more than 50 people assisted the campaign in Blaine County.

“I’ve been inspired by all the volunteers across the state who have put in countless hours to make this happen,” Page said in the news release. “It’s amazing to see our collective actions add up to such a huge accomplishment.”

A groundswell of support?

In March, Mayville met campaign volunteers at the Smoky Mountain Pizza restaurant in Ketchum.

He said Medicaid expansion offers an issue that politicians throughout Idaho could organize around.

“The way to actually change our politics in Idaho is to organize around consensus issues,” he said.

Mayville cited a Boise State University poll from last year that showed that 70.7 percent of respondents favored closing the health-care coverage gap.

The Legislature has repeatedly declined to address that gap. In the most recent session, lawmakers scuttled a plan from retiring Gov. Butch Otter to seek federal waivers that would cover about 35,000 people in the gap.

Mayville said the Legislature’s recalcitrance would inspire voters to enact change on their own.

“We thought, ‘Wow, that’s a consensus issue in Idaho,’” he said. “It seems like the consensus in the Idaho Legislature is against closing the Medicaid gap. We’re going to focus like a laser on that issue. We’re going to organize around that.”

Mayville said the campaign has relied on volunteers, unlike paid-signature-gathering campaigns that occur for ballot initiatives in states like California. That will make a difference in November, he said.

“There were teams of people in Hailey and Ketchum and Idaho Falls and Driggs,” he said. “That’s going to be so powerful.”

Idaho is a deep-red conservative state, and three leading Republican candidates are vying to replace Otter as governor in the May 15 primary.

U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, is running for governor, and told a Spokesman-Review reporter that he would work to overturn the initiative if voters elect him and pass the ballot measure. In Idaho, successful initiatives create laws that can be amended or repealed by the Legislature and the governor, just like any other law.

At a debate last week, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who is running against Labrador, said he’d respect the will of voters if they passed the initiative. The third leading Republican, Tommy Ahlquist, said he wants to reform Medicaid if elected governor.

Labrador praised Republican lawmakers’ decisions to kill the waiver legislation in March.

“States that have expanded Medicaid under Obamacare have enrolled more than twice as many able-bodied adults as they expected, leading to massive cost overruns and crippling these states’ ability to fully fund education, public safety and other critical services for the truly needy,” he said in a statement last month.

The two leading Democrats, Paulette Jordan and A.J. Balukoff, both support the Medicaid expansion initiative.

In Ketchum weeks ago, Mayville envisioned Medicaid expansion as a winning issue for progressive-minded candidates running in 2018.

“You can run on Medicaid expansion,” he said. “You can hitch your wagon to the Medicaid mobile. That’s how we win. We build that base of support.”

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