This year, Idahoans will vote on Proposition 2 to expand Medicaid to 62,000 Idahoans, many of whom depend on rural hospitals and medical providers to maintain their health. By voting YES, rural medical providers will be able to keep the doors open for their communities because more patients will be insured, and our small towns will benefit by attracting new people and businesses, leading to economic growth.
While no rural Idaho hospital has closed in the past eight years, the Chartis Center for Rural Health reports that seventeen of our hospitals are operating with negative margins. No business, including those in the medical industry, can experience continued negative operating margins and expect to stay open. Rural-area medical providers are hard to attract and retain because their patients are more likely to be low income, experience more chronic disease, and are disproportionately uninsured. It is, therefore, a challenge to attract providers to areas with these demographic realities. Expanding Medicaid goes a long way toward sustaining and growing our currently understaffed rural hospitals and medical clinics.
Supporting Medicaid expansion in Idaho makes economic sense and will be an economic boon to our state, particularly our rural areas. For years we’ve been paying federal taxes for this and not received a penny for it. Expansion would bring nearly $400 million back to Idaho to cover most of the costs, which will create tax revenue and thousands of jobs while reducing existing costs of less effective, reactive programs.
Another reason I will vote Yes to Prop. 2 is that it will help our military veterans who live in poverty and either do not qualify for Veterans Administration (VA) healthcare benefits or live far away from a VA facility. Living in a rural area makes accessing VA care impractical due to transportation issues. Additionally, there are approximately 6.8% of Idaho veterans who made less than the median poverty level in 2017 according to the Census Bureau. The Idaho Voices for Children reports that 3800 veterans in Idaho are uninsured and that Idaho has one of the highest veterans uninsured rates in the country. We need to take steps to make it easier for veterans to access healthcare when they need it.
Study after study shows that Medicaid expansion makes economic sense, and I know it will help our rural hospitals maintain their ability to provide services to residents, including veterans, across Idaho. Our legislature has danced around the issue for many years, and Idaho residents continue to suffer needlessly.
Now we have the chance to speak for ourselves and tell our state’s leaders that it’s time to invest in Idaho’s people and vote YES on Proposition 2 on November 6th!