Our state has a health care problem. It affects the well-being of thousands and costs our state, counties and businesses millions.
That is why the Idaho Association of Counties, comprising elected county officials from throughout the state, recently voted overwhelmingly to back the “Healthy Idaho” plan that was recommended by a governor-appointed task force in 2014.
Why is there such strong consensus around this issue from local government in Idaho?
And why is what’s good for counties also great for Idaho’s economy?
Our counties today administer an important but outdated system for providing medical care to people who cannot afford to pay for it. Helping to cover the cost of this emergency care doesn’t just save lives. It also helps hospitals stay solvent, because they do not turn away anyone who needs attention. It can also prevent senseless medical bankruptcies and reduce cost-shifting to the insured population. This eases the strain on Idahoans stuck with huge emergency medical bills, but it comes at a price: millions of local taxpayer dollars. And, adding to the cost, it provides health care in the most expensive of settings: the emergency room.
The Healthy Idaho Plan would change all of this. Using federal funds that are being made available for this purpose, it would provide affordable health insurance to 78,000 Idahoans currently without health care coverage. These are people who struggle to make ends meet. As low as their incomes are, they still make too much to qualify for traditional Medicaid. And they make too little to qualify for a tax credit on the state health care exchange. Filling this coverage gap would eliminate the need for, and the cost of, the county indigent and state catastrophic programs and provide a far better value for our public dollars by investing in prevention and implementing cost controls.
Increasing coverage also brings more resources to our health care system so 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 cannot afford insurance, it weakens the system and drives up insurance premiums — increasing costs for employers and consumers alike.
According to the state’s actuarial firm, Milliman and Co., and forecasts by Idaho economists, when budget savings and additional revenues from new economic activity in health care and related fields are tallied, Idaho and its counties would gain $546 million over the next nine years with the Healthy Idaho Plan. Inaction on the Healthy Idaho Plan in 2015 cost Idaho an estimated $107 million in savings and new revenue — and delayed the creation of approximately 16,000 new jobs.
Without the Healthy Idaho Plan, some employers in the state can face fines if their employees access tax credits on the Your Health Idaho health insurance exchange. These penalties took effect in 2015, and the Jackson Hewitt Tax Service firm estimates Idaho employers will face $12 million to $18 million in avoidable penalties this year. There are no such penalties if employees are covered through the Healthy Idaho Plan.
The Healthy Idaho plan is a homegrown, Idaho-based solution to a health care problem that is costing our state and counties millions of dollars and piling on additional costs in penalties for Idaho’s businesses. By taking action, Idaho can generate millions of dollars in savings and new revenue and ensure a healthier and stronger workforce.
Please contact your legislators today to tell them why you think the Healthy Idaho Plan is a win-win for Idaho. Visit closethegapidaho.org to endorse a statement of support from business leaders for this common-sense solution to a problem that affects all Idahoans.