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As the impacts of COVID-19 continue to have significant health and economic consequences for thousands of Idahoans, we must come together to help families that are struggling to make ends meet and stay safe. Through my position at Idaho Voices for Children, I have had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of people across our state and have heard firsthand how Medicaid has helped families get access to the healthcare they need.

The economic impact of COVID-19 continues to strain our state budget, with tax revenues projected to decrease by 8-14 percent, putting essential programs like Medicaid at risk for significant cuts in the coming year. Historically, we know that cuts in Medicaid mean that children and families lose access to critical healthcare services. Any cut to Medicaid would have devastating consequences as the program provides health coverage to people with disabilities, kids, seniors and individuals with low incomes.

In Idaho, Medicaid provides health insurance to 160,000 kids and 85,000 individuals with low incomes who don’t have health coverage offered through their employers. Medicaid covers doctor visits, prescriptions and now COVID-19 testing and treatment. The program improves public health and access to critical services, especially in rural areas. Medicaid also reduces uncompensated care costs, saving taxpayers and the state money.

As Idahoans continue to experience a loss of income and employment, Medicaid health insurance is providing critical access to health coverage and care. Joyce, who lives in Kuna, was laid off from her retail job in April. She has arthritis and regular treatment is crucial for her long-term health. Fortunately, Joyce has Medicaid coverage to ensure she is able to receive treatment until she is able to return to work.

When the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed in March, it included additional funding for Medicaid. While this is good news for Idahoans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the act’s protections are scheduled to go away at the end of the year. Idaho families and our state budget would be better positioned if Congress provides an extension of these protections and federal relief until unemployment numbers recover and the economy is stable.

We must protect access to health coverage and services during this public health crisis, especially for Idahoans like Joyce who have been laid off during the pandemic and need Medicaid to return to work as the economy recovers. You can help take action by contacting Idaho’s Congressional delegation and asking them to extend current Medicaid protections until the economy fully recovers from the public health crisis. You can reach Senator Crapo at 208-334-1776 and Senator Risch at 208-342-7985.

At Idaho Voices for Children, we are working tirelessly to ensure our state and federal leaders know what’s at stake for Idaho families that depend on Medicaid. And in these times of uncertainty one thing is clear, Idaho leaders can set our state up for a better COVID-19 recovery by prioritizing the health of Idahoans – and keep Medicaid strong.

Hillarie Hagen is a health policy expert at Idaho Voices for Children.

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