House edit: Ignoring the sick

There’s one surefire way for David Johnson to get the medical treatment he needs: Get arrested and go back to prison.

Behind bars, Johnson’s diabetes was treated. As depicted in the May 11 Post Register by reporter Aubrey Wieber, Johnson’s disease has gone mostly untreated since he got out in 2011. Johnson has no job or health insurance - another victim of election-year politics and the ideological war dividing the Idaho Republican Party.

Johnson does get sick. And when Johnson gets sick, he gets treated. This isn’t preventive medicine but emergency care, the expensive kind, adding up to more than $371,000 — bills likely to filter down to Idaho’s payers of last resort: the county indigent program and state catastrophic fund, black holes that suck millions in property taxes and state general fund dollars annually.

There is a better way. Idaho could join 26 other states and expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Doing so would help the nearly 55,000 folks, who like Johnson, fall into an especially ugly coverage gap — ineligible for subsidized insurance through the state exchange and forced to watch lawmakers choose job preservation over Medicaid expansion.

In the Idaho of 2014, lives are less important than collecting votes, the national debt or the political philosophies that guide us. But we wonder: How many in the anti-expansion crowd would look David Johnson in the eye and tell him they are withholding his medications, the message being that he’d be better off dead than dependent.

How many in the anti-expansion crowd take comfort in knowing that if they get sick or injured, government health care will be there for them? Yes, many of these folks paid into Medicare, only not as much as they are likely to pull out. That’s a subsidy, the very thing they would deny Johnson.

Conventional wisdom says next year, after the elections, Idaho will expand Medicaid, a move that would save the state nearly $1 billion during the next decade and offer preventive medicine to thousands of folks like Johnson.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Medicaid task force unanimously recommended doing so. The Department of Health and Welfare has a plan. And Idaho’s counties, tired of propping up the CAT Fund with property taxes, will push for change.

How many Idahoans won’t live to see the expansion? Johnson isn’t ready to go. He wants to see his grandkids grow up. It’s tough to do that from a prison cell, but in the Idaho of 2014 that might be the only place he can get the help he needs. In this Idaho, it’s better politics to deny a sick man medicine than to see that he gets it.

Doesn’t that tug at your conscience even a little bit?

Corey Taule

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