State Politics

Moms take health care concerns to Crapo. ‘If he doesn’t vote no ... he’s not listening.’

It could have been a wildly overbooked pediatrician’s waiting room.

But the 20-plus mothers who packed Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo’s Boise office on Thursday — children of various ages in their arms, cocooned on their backs or sprawled on the floor in idle amusement or fidgety boredom — were there to take shots, not get them.

Over the nonstop murmuring of the children, members of a group called Boise Moms for a Brighter Future and their allies politely but sternly gave a member of the senator’s staff a talking-to about what the Senate Republicans’ version of health care reform would mean to their lives as mothers and caregivers, not to mention recipients of health care themselves.

The goal of the “mom-in” was to lobby Crapo, a cancer survivor, to oppose the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The bill is undergoing revisions as the Republican Senate leadership seeks to muster the minimum 50 votes needed for passage, with the potential tiebreaking support of Vice President Mike Pence.

Recent figures from a report by the Urban Institute and cited by Idaho Voices for Children predict that under the Senate plan, 107,000 Idahoans will lose health coverage over the next five years, 30,000 of them children.

“If the Senate proposal becomes law, its negative impacts will be felt statewide and for generations to come,” IVC director Lauren Necochea said in a statement.

Idaho’s federal lawmakers have been the focus of lobbying by opponents of health plan reforms for months. Almost nothing has been heard locally from any proponents of the reform effort.

On Tuesday in Crapo’s office, discussion mostly focused on how the Senate bill, like the House bill before it, would harm the health care provisions enacted under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, throw millions off insurance, and eliminate Medicaid programs that help children, people with special needs and older people who’ve not yet reached Medicare age.

“This is one-sixth of our economy that will go down,” said Martha Sleutel, a nurse visiting her daughter from Fort Worth, Texas, where she also is lobbying against the repeal efforts. She said the bill goes “way beyond” rolling back the Affordable Care Act. “What’s next? Medicare? Social Security?”

Melanie Folwell, a Boise resident who helped organize the event, told Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s communications director, “I haven’t seen a compelling argument for our delegation on why this is a good bill.” She said later the group has focused its lobbying on Crapo given his own health struggles and his relative willingness to engage, as least indirectly, with constituents on the subject. Idaho’s other senator, Jim Risch, has “not been particularly amenable to discussing policy,” she said.

When they visit elected officials, “We don’t talk about Trump. We don’t talk about Russia,” Folwell said. “We talk about rubber-meets-the-road health care for Idahoans, and especially the most marginalized Idahoans, like chidren, pregnant women, elderly people with disabilities.”

Crapo was in Washington. Nothern has been his main liaison with the public on the health care debate, often to the frustration of those who want to speak to the senator directly.

Crapo, Nothern said, is “concerned with where the ACA is right now.”

“Sen. Crapo is interested in seeing if we can come to a solution,” Nothern told the group. “He’s been to the White House. He can work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He’s on the (Senate) Finance Committee. But we have to wait and see what this final bill’s going to look like.”

One after another, speakers recounted their personal health care struggles and concerns. Jennifer Morgan, of Middleton, has a 6-year-old son, Jackson, who receives different therapies for autism spectrum disorder that total more than 10 hours a week. Without the assistance of the Katie Beckett program, funded by Medicaid, “his services will disappear,” she said.

Are the visits to officials’ office worthwhile? Angie Morgan, whose family has health coverage via the Obamacare-created state health exchange, said she got satisfaction “in knowing that my senator is directly hearing my issues.”

“If he doesn’t vote no on this, I know he’s not listening to Idahoans,” she said.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews