About the time Gov. Mitt Romney helped craft and pass an historic expansion of health insurance in Massachusetts, he said this: “It doesn’t make sense to have 45 million people without insurance. It’s not good for them because they don’t get good preventive care and disease management. But it’s not good for the rest of the citizens, either, because if people aren’t insured, they go to the emergency room for their care when they get sick. That’s expensive. They don’t have any insurance to cover it. So guess who pays? Everybody else.”
Romney’s meaning was clear. Treating the uninsured would save money and, most importantly, lives.
Now we know.
Romney was right.
Earlier this month, the Annals of Internal Medicine released a study based on eight years of mandatory health insurance in Massachusetts. The findings, the first to provide a detailed analysis of the effects of expanding health-care availability, were conclusive. Expanded Medicaid coverage, a key component of “Romneycare” and the federal legislation it inspired, the Affordable Care Act, saves lives.
The study compared deaths among folks 20 to 64 in Massachusetts before and after passage of Romneycare. Researchers found that for every 830 people who became insured as a result of Romneycare, one life was saved annually. That represents a 3 percent decline in the death rate.
The study found fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease and infections, all conditions that benefit from preventive treatment. The biggest drop in the death rate occurred, naturally, in poor communities where folks had little access to health insurance before 2006.
About half the states have chosen to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Idaho is not on that list, despite growing evidence that expansion is the intelligent, compassionate and pragmatic thing to do.
Policymakers know expanding Medicaid would save the state millions of dollars over the next decade. Policymakers know expansion would allow them to get rid of the catastrophic fund, which steals from public school monies and property taxes to pay the bills of the medically indigent.
Now, thanks to this new study, Idaho’s policymakers know expansion will save lives. More than 100 lives. Annually.
Idaho’s governor and legislators will have a choice next year. Their constituents, whether they like it or not, are part of a grand experiment taking place in America. Our elected officials will choose for their most vulnerable citizens the placebo group, made up of states that do not expand Medicaid coverage; or they will make sure thousands of Idaho’s working poor, folks who simply cannot afford insurance on their own, get the real medication that comes with Medicaid expansion.
Let’s hope policymakers take their cues from the man many point to as a role model. The data is in. Romney was right. It’s time for Idaho to follow his lead.