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As a physician, I care deeply about the health of our communities and providing high quality care to Idahoans. As the COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) outbreak shows us, it is imperative that Idaho has a strong healthcare system. Medicaid expansion came to Idaho just in time. Medicaid expansion has provided health coverage to over 67,000 Idahoans. These Idahoans are now able to see a doctor, get tested for coronavirus without financial hardship, and get treatment if they are sick. With access to preventative care because of Medicaid expansion, all Idahoans can help slow the spread of COVID-19.

For the past 5 years, physicians have come to the Capitol to meet with legislators and ask for investments in the health of Idahoans. This year’s event has been cancelled as we all do our part to keep our communities safe through social distancing. But it is more important than ever that we take the time to emphasize the importance of investing in Idaho’s healthcare system. This year’s Legislature has funded Medicaid expansion and the Graduate Medical Education (GME) program per the governor’s recommendations. We are grateful to lawmakers for prioritizing these investments, especially at such a critical time, when our healthcare resources are under strain.

Medicaid expansion is a policy that was made for times of crisis. It allows Idahoans to have crucial supports to stay healthy, and bolsters our health care system. As economic impacts from the virus take their toll, Medicaid will make the difference for thousands of Idahoans who find themselves on hard times. As they recover and begin to make ends meet, expansion will provide them with solid ground to get back on their feet. Idaho needs a flexible and robust response to this national health emergency. The full funding of Medicaid expansion gives Idahoans the health protections needed to manage the spread of the disease, and gives the state important tools to keep Idahoans healthy. Medicaid and Medicaid expansion have never been more vital than in the middle of this international pandemic.

GME programs in Idaho provide an opportunity to cultivate future generations of well-trained doctors. We currently rank 45th in the United States for physicians and medical residents per capita, and 27% of Idaho physicians are over age 60. By prioritizing the growth and retention for our provider networks Idaho lawmakers are making our health system stronger. When medical residents train in Idaho, we have a 10-point higher retention rate than other states. Increasing this rate will address our provider shortage, reduce wait times for patients to see a doctor, and ensure Idaho is prepared when we face public health crises.

We ask that you join us in thanking lawmakers for funding Medicaid expansion and expanding GME programs in Idaho. While we deal with the immediate impacts of COVID-19 today, it’s critical that we continue to support the long-term strength of Idaho’s medical infrastructure. We call on all Idahoans to support these kinds of investments in our healthcare system now and in the future.

Dr. Jordan Urbanek is currently working on his fourth year as a psychiatry resident at the Boise Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center.

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