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The Idaho Legislature's first-ever hearing on expanding Medicaid eligibility attracted hundreds of supporters eager to testify in favor Tuesday, but lawmakers declined to vote on whether to send the measure forward after listening testimony

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BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Legislature's first-ever hearing on expanding Medicaid eligibility attracted hundreds of supporters eager to testify in favor Tuesday, but lawmakers declined to vote on whether to send the measure forward after listening to a handful of testimonies.

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee held an information hearing on a proposal that would expand Medicaid eligibility to cover everyone who earns less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The Legislature's refusal to pass Medicaid expansion has likely resulted in over 1,000 deaths in the state, said Dr. Kenneth Krell, director of critical care at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

"Please help us," Krell said. "I would ask you to please stop the killing."

Democratic Sen. Dan Schmidt of Moscow introduced the legislation as a personal bill earlier this session after facing years of unsuccessful attempts in the Republican-dominated Statehouse to get similar proposals a chance for a hearing.

However, Chairman Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, said the panel would not vote on the measure in order to avoid conflicting with Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's alternative proposal that would provide only preventive care to the estimated 78,000 Idaho residents caught in a gap where they neither qualify for health insurance subsidies or Medicaid.

Otter's proposal — which has not yet been introduced — is a state-funded alternative rather than choosing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Lawmakers have acknowledged for years that the state's current system of caring for the indigent is broken, but have resisted considering expanding Medicaid.

"If it were to come down to having to choose between the two, it would place us in an awkward situation as a committee, to vote against one of our colleagues or against the gentleman on the second floor," Heider said, referring to the governor.

The packed hearing spilled into the hallways and filled two separate overflow rooms. Many wore "78,000 can't wait" stickers while waiting to testify.

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