Politics & Government

2 moms and 3,000 doctors jump into the fight over Idaho’s Medicaid expansion

Veteran’s health care is covered. His wife falls into the Medicaid gap.

Disabled Idaho veteran Josh Blessinger describes his wife's painful health issues during a July 6, 2018 rally delivering petitions for a public vote on Medicaid expansion.
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Disabled Idaho veteran Josh Blessinger describes his wife's painful health issues during a July 6, 2018 rally delivering petitions for a public vote on Medicaid expansion.

Two Idaho moms are jumping into the legal fray over Medicaid expansion. And they’re joined by Idaho’s doctors.

They filed a request Thursday to intervene in a lawsuit between the Idaho Freedom Foundation and the Idaho Secretary of State. The lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing before the Idaho Supreme Court in January.

Deleena Foster, 32, is a stay-at-home mother of three in Pocatello. Her husband, Stuart, is a roofer; his job doesn’t offer health insurance, the court filing says.

Pamela Blessinger, 36, has two children with disabilities. She lives in Boise and works as a contractor for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare — but only part-time so she can take care of the children. She doesn’t qualify for insurance. Her husband, Joshua, is a military veteran who can’t work due to multiple sclerosis and a service-related disability, the court filing says.

Both families are below the poverty level, so they don’t qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies to buy insurance on the state exchange.

They are joined in their request by the Idaho Medical Association, which represents about 3,000 Idaho doctors, and Bruce Belzer, a family physician in Boise who treats uninsured patients. Belzer also is treasurer for the pro-expansion group Idahoans for Healthcare.

Idaho voters last month approved ballot Proposition 2 with about 61 percent of the vote, expanding Medicaid to cover low-income and childless adults. The expansion would add tens of thousands of Idahoans to the Medicaid program, with most of the costs covered by federal funds.

Soon after the election, the Idaho Freedom Foundation filed a lawsuit to block expansion. The conservative group has been the most prominent opponent of expansion. It argues the ballot measure was worded in a way that violates the state constitution — giving too much control to the federal government and to a single state agency, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Belzer, a co-owner of Primary Health Medical Group, takes patients regardless of whether they have health insurance, the court filing says. While not being paid is a business challenge, his uninsured patients have trouble getting specialist care, diagnostic testing, medications and medical devices that PHMG doesn’t offer, the filing says.

“The result is that Dr. Belzer spends significantly more time, per patient, on uninsured patients than on his insured patients,” the filing says. “This time is spent seeking and coordinating charitable or discounted services, or looking for other ‘workarounds,’ rather than actually providing health care services to the community.”

The Idaho Medical Association says its members give unpaid care to patients who have no health insurance. If Medicaid expansion is halted, they will continue to go unpaid, the court filing says.

Pamela Blessinger’s employment status has been corrected from an earlier version of this story.

Audrey Dutton is a health care reporter for the Statesman. Contact Audrey at (208) 377-6448 or adutton@idahostatesman.com.
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