BOISE — More than a dozen Idaho physicians gathered Thursday at the state Capitol to call on lawmakers to implement Medicaid expansion as passed by voters, without any modifications or restrictions.
Several physicians spoke of the negative impact they’ve seen the Medicaid gap have on patients they treat, emphasizing that many of them must prioritize basic needs, like feeding their families, over health care due to a lack of coverage. Many of those attending the press conference, hosted by the statewide coalition Close the Gap Idaho, held signs that read, “No red tape,” “No secondary gap” and “Expand coverage not government.”
“We’re here today as physicians because we care for patients and Idahoans who are in the coverage gap,” said Andrea Christopher, an Idaho physician.
The physicians said that if Medicaid isn’t implemented as approved by Idaho voters, without work requirements or other changes, a secondary gap in health care coverage will arise, which they said will “increase costs and weaken the economy.”
The Medicaid initiative, which won support from 60.6 percent of Idaho voters in November, expands the state’s Medicaid program to low-income Idahoans who fall within the state’s health care coverage gap, meaning they make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid but too little to qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance through Your Health Idaho. An estimated 60,000 Idahoans fall into this coverage gap.
Marisse DeThomas, a Nampa resident living in the coverage gap, presented at the event and said that as a College of Western Idaho instructor and widow, she spends a lot of her time caring for her two children with special needs.
“I cannot anticipate what my future income and hours worked will be,” DeThomas said. “I urge the Legislature to reject harmful barriers to coverage, including work requirements.”
Tori Talbutt, an Idaho native and fourth-year medical student, said she’s seen firsthand the impact that poor health care coverage has had on her patients.
“It is far too common to be hardworking men and women who let their health and needs fall to the wayside to provide for their families,” Talbutt said.
This, Talbutt said, creates a never-ending cycle of poverty in the state, in which a person gets sick, can’t work, and later can’t afford medical bills.
“And on and on it goes,” Talbutt said. “It’s become glaringly apparent to me that this cycle of poverty is present in our own backyard. ... Lack of health coverage leads to more sick days from work, worsening of chronic disease and unchecked and advanced diseases that could have been easily managed should they have been able to see primary care physicians earlier on.”
Luke Mayville, a political scientist and co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, the group that mobilized volunteers to pass Proposition 2, was among one of many who attended the press conference. Though he didn’t help organize the event, he recognized the importance of physicians supporting unchanged Medicaid implementation.
“It is so important that the Close the Gap coalition has come together this morning with physicians of Idaho to advocate for a clean Medicaid expansion to advocate against putting work requirements on Medicaid expansion,” Mayville said. “Work requirements are actually very wasteful — they waste taxpayer dollars, and clean Medicaid expansion is actually the most fiscally responsible.”
The decision on how Medicaid will be implemented is still looming in the Legislature.
On Monday, the Senate approved the FY2020 budget for Medicaid, on a 31-3 vote.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, on Tuesday told a room full of reporters that he doesn’t have the votes in the House on any form of Medicaid expansion — to repeal it, to approve it as-is without mandatory work requirements, or to approve it with mandatory work requirements.
One of the proposed Medicaid “sideboards,” HB 249, seeks a federal waiver to allow 31,000 Idahoans who now qualify for subsidized insurance through the exchange the option of staying there, rather than moving to the newly expanded Medicaid program. But after much opposition at its hearing and only one who spoke in favor — a lobbyist for the Idaho Freedom Foundation — the committee didn’t vote on the measure. Bedke said that GOP lawmakers are working on a different version of a Medicaid sideboards bill.
Idaho Press reporter Betsy Z. Russell contributed to this report.