The Idaho Legislature had the power and the opportunity this session to right some wrongs in order to save children left to die because of neglect and to reduce the suffering of Idaho’s 78,000 uninsured.
In the end, the collective body blinked and then looked the other way.
Idaho is one of a few states where there is an exemption protecting parents from prosecution if they withhold medical treatment from their children for religious reasons — and those children suffer or die. The only question is when, not if, another Idaho child will be denied medical care for something as treatable as food poisoning or pneumonia.
A Child Fatality Review Team determined that “10 children died in the past three years in circumstances where upon review of medical records, proper medical care would have saved them. ... The medical care was lacking because of religious beliefs.”
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Not wanting to “criminalize” the parents of religious groups such as the Followers of Christ, the Idaho Senate this week considered a compromise bill that might allow someone to intervene and save some kids from parents who think medical treatment is of the devil and prayer is the only recourse.
But that bill failed, with senators saying that it either went too far or not far enough.
The Statesman’s Bill Dentzer quoted Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, as saying, “We have to protect those rights from those who would take them away, and I believe this bill is a taking.”
But what about the rights of the innocent children, now buried in Idaho cemeteries? And those who might die in the coming days, weeks and months?
Likewise, our Legislature has failed once again to bridge the health insurance gap for the working poor who don’t make enough money to purchase coverage on the health exchange but make too much to be eligible for Medicaid.
A Senate bill to provide $10 million toward a problem that might need 10 times that to be resolved was killed Monday. A House bill that could address some in the gap population was still alive Wednesday, but no hearing had been scheduled.
It’s estimated that those in the gap population — whom Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, characterized in one of his arguments as not “deadbeats” but people who have jobs and who have health problems — can earn $12,060 (individuals) to $16,240 (two-person households) and be in the gap. Idaho legislators — who voted themselves a raise last year — earn $16,684 for their part-time service to the state. In addition, they get state-provided health care. The gap people do not.
The life-and-death topics of faith healing and Idaho’s uninsured population were priorities assigned to interim study groups following the 2016 Legislature. Dedicated committee members over the summer and fall spent considerable time debating them and hearing testimony. Dr. Ted Epperly, president and CEO of Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, said of the uninsured, “We know that there are people out there who will live sicker and truly die younger.”
I believe a better understanding of the faith healing and gap population came out of these committees. What I can’t believe is that our Legislature thinks discussions and debate equate to the policy needed to save lives.
If this is the Idaho you want, then the people who can’t or won’t find solutions to stop this death and suffering are your team. They talked a good game but have yet to do anything about it.
Unless some miraculous change of heart occurs in the coming hours and days, they again have demonstrated an aloofness to suffering that boggles the mind.