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Eye On Boise

Of charity care and Idaho’s health coverage gap…

A Seattle non-profit that connects patients with medical specialists willing to provide care for free was the final presenter to the Idaho Legislature’s interim committee on the state’s health coverage gap this morning telling the panel that Project Access Northwest has served 34,000 patients in the last 10 years. “The ACA changed who we were seeing, it didn’t necessarily change the volume,” Operations Director Scott Shurtleff told the lawmakers by phone. “We’re just seeing more insured people vs. uninsured people.” The group currently has 1,640 volunteer providers in 40 specialties across three counties.

Shurtleff estimated that 60 percent of the group’s patients now have insurance, and 40 percent don’t; all are low-income. “There is still limited access to some specialties and some specialties that we just can’t get, for instance rheumatology,” Shurtleff said. “We don’t have any volunteer rheumatologists, so those patients are really out of luck.”

The panel is now taking a lunch break; this afternoon, it will hear presentations from two of its members, Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, and discuss possible solutions for Idaho.

After Shurtleff’s presentation, Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he couldn’t see Idaho’s answer being a “system where if you’re poor you have to rely on charity care, vs. what everybody else gets.” Wood, a physician, said, “I don’t have a path forward yet. I think there are multiple things we can look at.”

“Just expanding Medicaid for the sake of expanding Medicaid and continuing the current health care delivery system is not acceptable to anybody,” Wood said. “I think we have to have a package deal, where we can transform the delivery system, bend the cost curve, and come out with a product that is sustainable – because what we have at this point is unsustainable.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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