Jenny Steinke should be alive today.
We have a duty to ensure that what happened to her, dying young from an asthma attack because she couldn’t afford to go to the doctor and get medication, never happens to another Idahoan.
Steinke’s is one story among countless tragedies here. The best estimates are that a few hundred of our neighbors die every year because we haven’t expanded Medicaid. Thousands more suffer from treatable illnesses because they can’t afford to see a doctor. And we pay a bit more for this outcome than we would if we covered them under Medicaid.
If our 62,000 neighbors in the gap made less, many would be covered under traditional Medicaid. If they made a little more, they would get tax credits so they could afford to buy private insurance. Their situation isn’t just tragic. It’s absurd.
The Legislature had seven years to fix this problem. Lawmakers failed. Now it’s up to us.
The case for Proposition 2 is overwhelming.
Idaho’s principal business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, backs Prop 2, as does the Idaho Sheriff’s Association and the Idaho Education Association. So does the Idaho Hospital Association, the Rural Health Association, the Idaho Medical Association, the Idaho Behavioral Health Alliance and the Idaho College of Emergency Physicians. Dozens of other organizations have endorsed it.
In short, nearly everyone who studies health policy seriously has reached the same conclusion: Idaho should expand Medicaid. Add us to the list.
The best financial analysis available indicates Idaho taxpayers will save a bit of money through expansion, so long as lawmakers end the CAT Fund and the county indigent funds.
Nothing is free. But we are paying for the people in the Medicaid gap already — in the least efficient manner imaginable. Instead of getting them regular care, we send tax dollars to hospitals to pay the emergency room bills they can’t. The emergency room is the most expensive and least effective place to provide most kinds of health care.
The arguments against expansion are poor. A few years ago, opponents misinterpreted a study of Medicaid expansion in Oregon to reach the conclusion that coverage doesn’t improve health. They dropped that line after the lead author of the study repudiated the claim directly.
The claim that Medicaid expansion will create a disincentive to work isn’t true either. In March, four researchers compiled more than 200 studies of Medicaid expansion. The studies either found that expansion had no effect on employment or slightly boosted it.
One recent columnist asked you to think about Medicaid expansion through the movie Star Wars. Anything to distract from the task at hand.
This isn’t a galaxy far, far away. This is Idaho. Our neighbors in Idaho Falls, Ammon, Blackfoot, Salmon and countless other places are suffering needlessly. We can stop it. Our duty is obvious.
Proposition 2 is more than a question of policy. The outcome will tell us something about who we are. It will tell us whether we are the sort of people who shrink from our duties — or the kind of people who rise to meet them.