Idaho Needs Medicaid Expansion

For the fourth year in a row, the GOP-controlled Idaho legislature has refused to expand Medicaid. They’re about to run out of excuses and the only one left is, “We don’t care about people.” They said it would be overturned by the courts– WRONG. They said that it’s an election year and it would hurt our chances of winning– on so many levels WRONG. They said it would be repealed by our new President– how WRONG they were. There are no more excuses.

Read Sen. Maryanne Jordan’s op-ed about why Idaho must expand Medicaid.

Idaho needs Medicaid expansion

For four years, 78,000 Idahoans in the health care gap have waited for a solution. Two task forces have recommended Medicaid expansion with no action by the Legislature. The adoption of the Affordable Care Act would have provided 100 percent funding for expansion for the first four years. We missed out. We were told we needed to wait until we have a new president. We have one.

We’ve been told we have to wait for the federal proposal to decide what we do next. We have the federal proposal. It retains the option for states to expand Medicaid and preserves Medicaid in its current form until at least 2020, and funding is still available at a 90 percent match rate. The cost for the Idaho match would be equal to the amount the state is now paying for catastrophic care.

Let’s talk for a minute about the discussion of whether to accept available federal dollars for Medicaid expansion (which are really our tax dollars coming back to Idaho). Idaho receives federal dollars for education, the Idaho National Laboratory, transportation, labor, agriculture, homeland security, fire protection, military installations and a myriad of other programs. Yet in the past four years, in the face of continued recommendations to the contrary, the Legislature has not acted to utilize available federal dollars to help the 78,000 Idahoans in the gap. I don’t know about you, but I know how much my husband and I pay in federal taxes, and I would love nothing more than to be able to direct some of those dollars home to help my fellow Idahoans. We are already taxed to pay for Medicaid expansion. The money just isn’t coming back to Idaho; it’s going to other states. Four years of inaction have left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table that could be growing the Idaho economy.

Idaho’s citizens are suffering unnecessarily. Take southeastern Idaho, for example: In Jefferson County, roughly 7 percent of the population falls in to the Medicaid gap; Bingham County has about 6.1 percent of the population without any health coverage; Bonneville County has 4.9 percent, Madison County has 4.6 percent.

Some of the biggest employers in the state are health care providers. St. Luke’s, St. Al’s, Kootenai Medical Center and Portneuf Medical Center, in addition to Idaho’s community health centers, will be able to add jobs that will contribute to the economy. In rural communities, hospitals are often the area’s largest employer and have benefited across the country from Medicaid expansion.

What will it take for the Legislature to address this issue? Idahoans caught in the gap are bankrupted by health care bills. They are forced to seek help at emergency rooms, the most expensive care possible. They are going without crucial medications that could manage serious conditions. This leads to a limited ability to work and provide for themselves and their families.

Regardless of political consideration, any recommendation should provide the most economic benefit to the state, and, more importantly, the most comprehensive solution for the estimated 78,000 Idahoans in the gap. If it doesn’t get done in this session, the governor should call a special session to solve this problem. Those 78,000 Idahoans can’t wait any longer.

Idaho Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, represents District 17 and serves as the Senate Minority Caucus Chairwoman.

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