The Idaho Community Action Network, a statewide non-profit advocacy group with more than 2,000 members, issued a report today calling strongly for Idaho to expand its Medicaid program to cover the working poor. That also was the unanimous recommendation of a 14-member working group appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, which studied the issue for months.
"It's the right choice for Idaho - it's going to save us money, and it's going to save lives," said Terri Sterling, the group's organizing director. "When you think about the families this is impacting right now, it's very sad across the state. ... I have interviewed lots of these families, and it's so heartbreaking and heart-wrenching to hear some of these stories."
ICAN's report, "Invest in a Healthy Idaho," calls a Medicaid expansion "a prescription for ending the drain on state and county resources and creating financial stability for Idaho's patients." It highlights the stories of several Idahoans who lack health insurance, including Aaron Howington, who works, but much of his income goes to child support payments; he lives in a camper in the back of his pickup truck, can't afford health insurance and makes too much to qualify for Medicaid. "Without good health, I may not be able to continue working," he said. "I don't know what I would do then. The Medicaid expansion would allow me to get the care that I need to stay healthy and keep my job."
States have the option of expanding Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health insurance to the poor and disabled, to cover the working poor under the national health care reform law, largely at federal expense; a decision from Otter and state lawmakers on which way to go is pending. In Idaho, an expansion would save the state hundreds of millions over the coming years, because the state currently covers the catastrophic medical bills of indigent residents entirely with county property taxes and state general funds.
Kelly Anderson of Boise said she hopes the state chooses expansion. "Right now I have several bills that are in collection due to not having insurance and needing medical care," she said. "Once they expand the Medicaid and cover people that aren't covered, I think you'll see a whole lot less emergency room visits that don't get paid for because people can't afford them, and I think you'll see a healthier country." Said Alecia Clements, an ICAN state board member, "I have good insurance, thanks to God, but a lot of Idahoans don't." If Idaho doesn't expand the program, she said, "It's going to cost us anyway, even more - I hope that our legislators understand that."
ICAN was formed in 1999 through a merger of the Idaho Citizens Network, a citizens' advocacy group focusing on the concerns of low-income residents, and the Idaho Hunger Action Council.