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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Luke Cavener: Increased access leads to healthier Idaho

Luke Cavener

It’s natural for any parent to worry. I worry about my son making the right choices at school, and I worry about everyday things like remembering to take out the trash. But, because my family has adequate health insurance, I don’t have to worry about how we’ll pay for my pregnant wife’s doctor’s visits or ponder what prescription to fill because of lack of coverage for medications.

Sadly, this is a reality for many Idahoans without health insurance who delay receiving the medical attention they need and deserve.

About 78,000 hard-working Idahoans fall in the “coverage gap,” earning too much to qualify for Idaho’s current Medicaid program, but not making enough to qualify for tax credits to help them purchase private insurance. These are our friends, neighbors, family and church members.

To put it in perspective, an Idaho family of four making about $31,600 qualifies for a roughly $7,800 tax credit to purchase coverage. Another family of four making just under $8,000 less – around $24,000 – will be ineligible for these credits and remain uninsured. The lower income family earns too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough money for tax credits. Why should tax-paying Idahoans be robbed of health care simply because they don’t earn enough to qualify for tax credits?

This tale of two families can have a happier ending. By taking advantage of available funds to implement the Healthy Idaho Plan, both families can access affordable health care.

The Healthy Idaho Plan is a hybrid plan created just for Idaho that offers comprehensive health care coverage to people currently in the coverage gap. They could access lifesaving preventive screenings like mammograms and colonoscopies, as well as tobacco cessation benefits and cancer treatments. Individuals without health coverage are more likely to be diagnosed at a much later stage when cancer is more costly to treat – and much less likely to be cured.

The Healthy Idaho Plan uses taxpayers’ dollars wisely and creates a more efficient, cost-effective health care solution in Idaho. Data from a 2014 report on the economic benefits of Medicaid redesign show that closing the coverage gap will also drive Idaho’s economy, generating more than $700 million in economic activity and creating nearly 15,000 jobs. More importantly, it’s estimated to save up to 170 lives yearly. No one should die because they lack affordable health insurance.

This year, roughly 8,120 Idahoans will be diagnosed with cancer and many will be uninsured. If Idaho declines these available funds for the Healthy Idaho Plan, taxpayers will continue to pay for emergency care for uninsured individuals.

As a Close the Gap coalition member, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network believes all Idahoans should have access to quality, affordable health care, which is critical in Idaho’s fight against cancer. The Healthy Idaho Plan emphasizes personal responsibility and accountability for participants – including incentives for healthy behaviors, access to preventive services, and use of primary care providers instead of costly emergency rooms.

Let’s close the coverage gap and ensure all Idahoans can access the health care they need, which is good for taxpayers and the state’s economy, too.

Luke Cavener is the Idaho director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

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