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Eye On Boise

House Health & Welfare hears lots of testimony in favor of Idaho Health Care Plan, including personal stories

The House Health & Welfare Committee has heard more than two and a half hours of testimony so far this morning on HB 464, the Idaho Health Care Plan, nearly all of it in favor. One of the few exceptions was the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which decried the bill as an expansion of Medicaid. Among those speaking in favor of the bill were representatives of the Idaho Medical Association, Blue Cross of Idaho, health care advocacy groups, and private citizens, many of whom, with great emotion, shared their personal stories of falling into Idaho’s health coverage gap. Several advocates objected to the inclusion of work requirements in the bill, but otherwise supported it; the state Department of Health & Welfare says about 700 Medicaid recipients would be subject to the new work requirements.

Berniece Olivas shared how her husband faces severe health problems as “a direct result of poorly managed diabetes. ... We are in the gap,” she said. “I work four part-time jobs, including an adjunct professor at Boise State University.” But all her earnings aren’t enough to cover the medical supplies her husband needed, she said. “Medicaid would have saved his kidney.” Instead, she said, he’s suffered life-threatening complications and run up $90,000 in medical bills in just the past year. “We have had no choice but to access emergency care,” she said. All of this, she said, “Will cost the state far more than helping him manage his care a year ago, five years ago, when it could have saved his life.” The Idaho Health Care Plan, she said, would allow people like her husband “to have the tools and medications that they need long before they begin to die and before their illnesses become emergency room surgery and long-term dialysis.”

Jessica Rachels of Sandpoint told the committee, “My husband is self employed, and we’re both in the coverage gap. ... Today, thousands of Idahoans are unable to access the tax credits because their income is too low. The Idaho Health Care Plan would solve this unfairness, allowing many Idahoans access to tax credits, myself included. I am a full-time caregiver for my daughter who uses a wheelchair, and my father, who also has a disability. … For our family of seven, it’s a choice between a hundred-dollar doctor’s visit or buying groceries. … For children to grow up successfully, they also need to have healthy parents. Through the Idaho Health Care Plan, working Idahoans will have access to care and will be less likely to incur medical debt while uninsured.”

Cheryl Slavin’s voice broke as she told the lawmakers, “I work, and I would like to be able to keep doing so, but without my medications I am disabled. … I’m a likely candidate for repeated hospitalization. … This is one example of what it is like to be in Idaho’s insurance gap.” She said, “As the primary caretaker of my daughter, I need to remain as stable as I can for as long as I can. It is a gross injustice. ... I need more than good luck and well wishes to get through this.” She said that’s why she urges lawmakers to pass HB 464.



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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