MOSCOW — Education funding and a proposal to expand Medicaid to thousands of uninsured Idahoans dominated a candidate forum in Moscow that featured six local candidates for the Idaho Legislature.
The proposed Medicaid expansion would offer coverage to as many as 62,000 Idaho residents who fall into the so-called “Medicaid gap” — those who are ineligible for Medicaid but don’t earn enough to qualify for subsidies and credits under the Affordable Care Act.
Following a successful signature gathering campaign, the item will appear on Idaho’s November ballot as Proposition 2.
Regarding Medicaid expansion, the lone voice of dissent Thursday night belonged to incumbent Sen. Dan Foreman, R-Viola. Foreman called for a “paradigm shift” in the way Idaho administers welfare, cautioning that the current system perpetuates dependants.
“Medicaid allows people to continue to make poor health choices — access to health care is not enough, we need people to make lifestyle changes,” Foreman said.
Foreman’s Democratic opponent David Nelson pointed out that even with the passage of Proposition 2, the state Legislature would have to approve an appropriations bill to fund the measure. He said for the measure to be implemented, Idaho voters will have to elect legislators who will support its funding.
“I’m in the Legislature, and if you think I’m going to just sit down my hands and let all this money flow past my desk — I’d be abdicating my authority and my position as a senator,” Foreman said. “‘If they want funding for this, you the people have decided that the Legislature lets those funds go — this will never fly as written.”
State Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, the most senior of the incumbent legislators at the forum, said she has been on the front line of the medicaid issue for years.
While she said she has never endorsed Medicaid expansion, she said a solution for closing the gap has her full and unwavering support.
“I have to say that the Idaho Legislature didn’t do their jobs, so I’m thrilled that the Idaho citizens are going to make sure that this gets taken care of,” Nilsson Troy said. “I’m committed to supporting whatever the will of this district is.”
Nilsson Troy’s opponent in the coming race, Moscow Democrat Laurene Sorensen, said she would be a strong proponent of Medicaid expansion.
Sorensen related a personal story about her late husband, who put off going to the doctor to examine a blemish on his back. The mark was a metastatic melanoma — an aggressive form of skin cancer. He died at 58.
“I don’t want people in this state to be afraid to go to the doctor, where early detection and early intervention could save their lives,” Sorensen said.
Republican candidate for state representative Bill Goesling and his opponent, Margaret Gannon, D-St.Maries, both agreed Medicaid expansion should be supported by legislators if voters approve the item.
Regarding questions about funding for higher education, Foreman was, again, the sole dissenter. While nearly every other candidate voiced varying degrees of support for higher education and specifically the University of Idaho, Foreman pointed out he has voted no on two of the UI’s proposed budgets. Foreman said he had two pieces of advice for UI.
“Number one: trim the fat out of your budget, because if you want to get it past this senator, it’s not going to fly with that. And then secondly, stop pushing the political agenda,” Foreman said.
Foreman continued, listing the ways he would help the UI specifically, saying he would give them “a better entering student.”
“I would get the illegal drugs out of our schools; number two, I would get the deadbeat students and the deadbeat parents out — they can go to alternative schools if they want to disrupt and they don’t want to really learn,” Foreman said. “We need discipline without fear of lawsuits and more support for our teachers and administrators.”
Some candidates disagreed with Foreman’s assessment that UI has too much frivolous spending. Nelson pointed out that UI’s revenues have yet to recover to pre-recession levels, and Goesling drew on his experience as a member of the State Board of Education to provide a rebuttal.
“For five years, I was on the Idaho State Board of Education,” he said. “I reviewed that budget very closely. There’s not much fat in the university.”
The Moscow Chamber of Commerce will hold another local candidate forum featuring candidates for county commissioner at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Best Western Plus University Inn in Moscow.