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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

Doctor’s chilling testimony: ‘The Idaho Legislature is unfortunately responsible for those deaths’

Dr. Kenneth Krell, director of critical care at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, offered chilling testimony to senators today about Idaho’s failure to expand Medicaid to cover 78,000 Idahoans who now fall into a coverage gap. “I see those patients on a near-daily basis through the emergency room who present with end-stage disease,” he said, “dying, often, because those disease processes are now at an end state and have resulted in organ failure that often results in death or really irreparable damage.” He described caring for Jenny Steinke, who died from asthma.

“Jenny’s case for me really crystallized what’s wrong here,” he told senators. “And I kept asking myself, how could this be? How could, in a state like Idaho where we care about each other, could I be seeing deaths and really damaging illness on a nearly daily basis as a result of failure to expand Medicaid that cost tangible lives? It’s difficult to understand.”

He said there’s been debate about how many lives are lost each year because of Idaho’s failure to expand Medicaid. “I think the best statistics come from a study in the New England Journal a couple of years ago,” he said. “It compared states who accepted Medicaid expansion with a neighboring state that did not. In that study it was found that the failure to expand Medicaid cost 19.7 lives per 100,000 population. If we extrapolate that … that’s about 324 lives a year. That is: Nearly one patient per day dies in this state as a result of not having Medicaid expansion. And that’s a direct result of that failure to obtain care at a stage when the disease process could be treated effectively and not only death, but hospitalization and illness prevented.”

Krell said, “It’s been said that perhaps it’s an ideological difference, that we just don’t want to accept federal dollars. But if that were true, I don’t see that we would see many in the Legislature accepting federal dollars for federal farm subsidies. … All of us have insurance, and it hasn’t led to dependency on our part. I could only come to one inescapable conclusion: That the Idaho Legislature is unfortunately responsible for those deaths. Our intransigence in failing to pass Medicaid expansion for the last three years has probably resulted in over 1,000 deaths in this state. Please help us. I would ask you to please stop the killing. Thank you.”

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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