Don’t mess with a voter-approved initiative, Mr. Labrador

In an Idaho Public TV gubernatorial debate on April 27, Congressman Labrador suggested that, if elected, he might try to overturn the Medicaid expansion initiative if the voters approve it.

He later issued a partial walk-back but still said he would treat the initiative “like any other piece of legislation” and consider its “pros and cons” in deciding whether to abide by it.

If the people approve the initiative, it would be an act of arrogance to mess with it. Idaho voters placed the initiative process in Idaho’s Constitution in 1912 just so they could address important public issues when the Legislature failed or refused to act.

Idaho’s Constitution says, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.” Those who would nullify this people power may think the people are not smart enough to run their own affairs. The congressman often contends that effete public officials should not be able to dictate to the people, but overturning a voter initiative is just the kind of action he condemns.

The initiative seeks to expand Medicaid coverage to over 60,000 Idahoans who earn too much now to get Medicaid but too little to get subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The people in this gap would have insurance coverage if Idaho did what 32 other states have done–simply expand Medicaid to cover these gap people and tell the feds to fork over the money. Our Legislature has refused to do so, or even to enact some other means of covering the folks in the gap.

Just a year ago, Mr. Labrador said, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” His comment provoked a good deal of rebuttal from medical professionals who verified that people do die because they can’t pay the cost of detection and treatment of serious illness. A number of people responded that they had lost loved ones for that very reason.

I can speak to the issue because I was billed over $600,000 last year for the diagnosis and treatment of stage 2b pancreatic cancer. Thanks to the great work of Drs. David Hartman, Akshay Gupta, Joshua Barton and Dan Zuckerman, as well as the wonderful people at MSTI, the cancer is gone. Thanks to good insurance from the state (the same coverage state elected officials get) and then Medicare Complete, I ended up paying less than $15,000. A person in the gap would not have gotten a break, not even the nearly 50% contractual reduction insurance carriers usually get on medical provider billings.

A person in the gap would not likely have felt comfortable laying out several thousand dollars for diagnostic tests of vague symptoms, which is what saved my life. It is often very costly just to find out you have a serious health issue. We really do have a moral responsibility to take the funds on offer from the federal government to provide the gap folks life-saving medical coverage.

I am hopeful that the voters will see the wisdom and moral necessity to approve the initiative. If the Medicaid gap is thus filled, I hope any would-be governor would not try to frustrate the will of the people.

Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general.

Jim Jones,, Politics