Boise State on Business

Chris Loucks: Expanding Medicaid would help Idaho businesses, families

Professor of economics, College of Business and Economics at Boise State UniversityFebruary 19, 2014 

Healthy families are good for business, good for the economy and good for our communities. If we take advantage of new Medicaid dollars allocated for Idaho under the Affordable Care Act to increase health coverage and family economic security, we can improve the health of Idaho on several levels. We can strengthen our health care infrastructure, give our economy a huge boost, and improve the health and productivity of our workforce.

The antiquated catastrophic and indigent care systems, which help cover uncompensated emergency care, have an important purpose. They help hospitals (especially rural ones) keep their doors open, reduce cost-shifting onto the insured population and ease the strain on Idahoans stuck with huge emergency medical bills. However, there is a better way to meet these goals and prevent many of these emergencies in the first place — we can provide access to health care to those who are uninsured.

Taking advantage of the Medicaid Option means more Idahoans can get health coverage, which is a better approach than waiting until a patient is in crisis. This leads to better value for our public dollars by:

• Emphasizing prevention.

• Modernizing our health care systems.

• Increasing efficiency.

• Implementing cost controls and health-promoting incentives.

Increasing coverage also brings more resources to a health care system so that it can provide the care we all need. It stands to reason that physicians can more readily open a practice in an area with a high number of insured residents. Similarly, when large numbers of Idahoans can’t afford insurance, it weakens the system and drives up insurance premiums — increasing costs for employers and consumers alike.

The Medicaid Option would bring economic benefits to every region of the state as the new dollars ripple through the economy. When a nurse buys her groceries, takes her car in for a tune-up or buys shoes for her kids, she will help fuel the local economy. Economists estimate that over the next 10 years Idaho would see nearly $1 billion in new economic activity and 16,000 new private sector jobs. To put that in perspective, the much-lauded Chobani plant in Twin Falls planned to hire 500 employees.

Idahoans want to be healthy and on the job. Of the Idahoans who would be eligible for the optional Medicaid, 84 percent are in working families — usually working full-time with no benefits. We want our workforce to have preventive care and affordable treatment that can reduce sick days and increase productivity. In “Hidden Costs, Value Lost,” the Institute of Medicine estimated that businesses lose $65 billion to $130 billion annually due to preventable illness and deaths related to being uninsured. It’s also better when low-wage families can get the care they need without facing huge medical bills. That’s what Medicaid is for.

From business groups such as the Idaho Association for Commerce and Industry to child advocates such as Idaho Voices for Children, Idahoans understand our state will benefit from Medicaid expansion. Like members of those organizations, I support expansion of Medicaid. Do you? Contact your legislators.

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