Health: Legislators ignore need to expand Medicaid

by Judy Ferro

I admire the 49 people who showed up to testify for Medicaid expansion this past week before the legislative interim committee.

Those testifying had to know that years of previous testimony had been ignored. Committee members weren’t fazed to learn that an estimated 150 Idahoans “in the gap” die prematurely each year for lack of care or that the state could save $30 million each year in spending on critical care.

They certainly haven’t been swayed by stories of individual hardships and deaths.

It doesn’t help that the reasons these legislators give for opposing Medicaid expansion are senseless. The Federal government may go bankrupt? Then why is the state accepting Federal money for schools, roads, police equipment, and sewage systems? Why are individual legislators accepting agriculture subsidies and Medicare?

Legislators haven’t yet found a plan yet that will work? Somehow 31 others states have.

Those in the gap will become dependent? As if dependency is worse than death?

If anything, it’s the current system that encourages dependency. Right now, the 78,000 Idahoans “in the gap” would be covered by health insurance if they’d just quit their jobs. How many remain unemployed for fear of losing needed health care?

Legislators seldom mention, however, the real reason they can’t expand Medicaid.

When the Democratic Congress of 2008-2010 offered to let states manage expanded health programs while the Feds paid 100% of the initial costs, Idaho’s Republican government put a lot of money into suing for the right to refuse. They won. In essence, Idaho Republicans said, “Those Feds are not the boss of us, and we’ll cut off our noses to prove it.”

And so they do. Year after year.

And, disgracefully, some have the gall to say that all those in the gap have to do is work a little harder. The last time I checked, unsubsidized health insurance for a family of four costs more than someone on minimum wage earns in 100 hours. Full-time jobs are about 180 hours a month.

Would it make a difference if legislators knew that the pay our colleges and universities give adjunct faculty at our colleges and universities leave many in the gap? Our cuts to higher education have left college instructors, men and women who’ve studied and sacrificed, unable to afford health insurance.

Would it make a difference if legislators understood that many in the gap don’t make more because they are caregivers for chronically ill spouses and children? They work at home or only during rush hours so they can be there to cleanse feeding tubes and change diapers. If it weren’t for them, the death rate would be even higher.

Would it make a difference if committee members knew that Idaho’s gap population includes 3,800 veterans and their families? The Veterans Administration provides medical care only for five years unless one has served 20 years or has health problems ruled service-related. Even then, the VA may not serve spouses and children.

Apparently not. For people spill out these stories at hearings every year and nothing happens. So I have to admire those who continue to hope legislators will eventually do the right thing. Those who continue to hope, to believe that, eventually, people will do the right thing. Hats off to the 49 Idahoans who waited hours to speak in hopes of maybe, this time at last, hearts would respond.

A poll in May indicated that 64% of Idahoans want to see Medicaid expanded. Imagine if they voted for candidates who agree with them. They could improve the lives of thousands.