By now, our so-called representatives have likely gutted the legislation that 61 percent of Idahoans approved of and gone on to punish us by making it practically impossible to exercise our right to use the ballot initiative in the future.
But there’s something I want to address. One of our so-called leaders, when arguing in favor of expensive and unnecessary restrictions to Medicaid expansion, talked about making sure recipients have “skin in the game.” Unfortunately, this attitude continues to perpetuate a stereotype we cling to as a society because it makes us feel better. We like to think that if you need government aid, like Medicaid, it means you’re lazy, unethical and undeserving of help.
The reality, though, is different. Idaho’s unemployment rate of 3.4 percent is one of the lowest in the nation. In economic-speak, we’re practically at full employment as a state. The idea that there are a bunch of layabouts just waiting to bilk the system is absurd. Plus, most of the people who fall into the coverage gap are already working.
Work requirements are designed to “catch” a very small percentage of people — and this “gotcha” will cost more money and require more bureaucracy. Analysis indicates that the restrictions will make implementation less effective and more expensive. Hardly what I consider “fiscally conservative.” Most people who need this law are already working, so what’s the point of adding more red tape and expense?
Don’t forget that not all workers have access to health insurance plans offered by their employers. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that only 36.2 percent of private firms in Idaho even offer health coverage to their employees.
The next thing to consider is this: Just because you’re working, it doesn’t mean you can afford to pay for health insurance.
Idaho has some of the lowest wages in the nation. In fact, our wages are so low that, for many workers, it completely erases the low cost of living. Access to affordable healthcare is an important part of financial stability and quality of life, but many people, even if they’re working full-time, can’t afford to pay for health insurance coverage.
In the last two years, as various provisions in the Affordable Care Act have been dismantled, we’ve seen premiums start shooting skyward again, following a period of slower increases. This doesn’t bode well for Idaho workers, especially if our “representatives” insist on making it harder for them to access Medicaid.
The United Way regularly puts out a report of workers who are asset-limited, income-constrained, employed (ALICE). These are folks who are employed, but still have a hard time getting by. In Idaho Falls, 46 percent of the population is considered ALICE or in poverty. That’s nearly half the population of one of our cities struggling to make ends meet, even though they’re working.
Trying to paint these folks as lazy and not having “skin in the game” is disingenuous and it perpetuates the myth that they just “don’t want” healthcare or good jobs. Idahoans are, by and large, hard workers. But, unfortunately, hard work doesn’t guarantee a good wage or benefits in our state.
Needing a little help doesn’t make you lazy or a bad person. In fact, instead of accusing those who need support from our community as being undeserving, we should take to heart the words of someone so many of us claim to follow, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”