As a physician, I have seen firsthand the challenges that COVID-19 is creating for Idahoans. I’m watching our hospitals and clinics fill up with sick patients and fear for when we have to start choosing who gets medical attention. I see the toll it’s taking on my patients as they battle with losing jobs, virtual learning for their children, supporting their families while staying safe and managing their own health. The impact on mental health is substantial as many navigate these challenges that are exacerbated by living paycheck to paycheck. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure Idahoans have access to health coverage and care that helps them stay healthy.
One thing that went right in 2020 was the start of Medicaid expansion, which has ensured more Idahoans can enroll in health coverage and access care throughout this pandemic. Prior to Medicaid expansion, people were delaying care until it became a crisis. So many Idahoans were sick and not getting the care they needed — until now. One of my patients has a history of cancer but was unable to afford continuous follow-up care. She now has health insurance through Medicaid and has been able to get the biopsies she needs to manage her illness.
Research has shown that states with Medicaid expansion have been better positioned to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession. Because of Medicaid expansion, Idaho families are receiving the care they need when they need it, and thousands of Idahoans who have lost income or jobs due to the pandemic — many losing their job-based health coverage in the process — are getting the health coverage they need to stay healthy.
Medicaid helps protect those who are making it possible for us to live our lives and stay safe in these uncertain times. Our essential workers that don’t have the luxury of working from home — child care workers, food manufacturers and grocery store workers — now have access to health coverage through Medicaid, as many essential jobs don’t provide employer-sponsored health insurance. Medicaid also covers COVID-19 testing and treatment costs, to ensure Idahoans can get the care they need to stay healthy. One patient recently lost his job because of the pandemic and was able to qualify for Medicaid. He contracted COVID-19 and ended up hospitalized in the intensive care unit. He now doesn’t have to worry about crippling medical debt in addition to his job loss.
In the midst of the biggest public health crisis in 100 years, we need people healthy, and the way to do that is to ensure they have health coverage and timely access to affordable health care. Idaho lawmakers are proposing cuts to Medicaid, and with the pandemic nowhere near under control, it would be unwise to cut any program that increases access to health care coverage and affordable and accessible health care services. Idaho lawmakers must prioritize health care during a public health crisis to keep Idahoans as healthy and safe as is possible.