Health coverage for Medicaid gap population is right and moral thing to do

Sen. Steven Thayn considers moral responsibility to Gap population

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, gives his take on whether a governmental body has a moral responsibility to assist a constituency such as Idaho's 78,000 citizens who live without health insurance.
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Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, gives his take on whether a governmental body has a moral responsibility to assist a constituency such as Idaho's 78,000 citizens who live without health insurance.

Part III of a Statesman series on uninsured Idahoans presents the moral argument for creating a policy to cover 78,000 of our neighbors “in the gap.” For previous segments of the series or to view a list of resources and links, go here.

The Idaho Legislature goes by another name in its history and on its website: “The Idaho Citizen Legislature.” It takes pride in the fact that its members rise up out of the general population and represent everyone.

So why have we adopted a health insurance system that excludes some and sends them on a painful path? “If we don’t cover people, we know that there are people out there who will live sicker and truly die younger,” said Dr. Ted Epperly, president and CEO of Family Medicine Residency of Idaho.

Epperly testified to a legislative health care committee a few weeks ago. The committee will recommend a course to our Citizen Legislature, which has declared in its mission that it ought to “ ... Adopt a system of laws that promote the health, education and well-being of Idaho’s citizens.”

Though we don’t believe our lawmakers want to see people suffer, we can’t understand the disconnect in providing health insurance for the 78,000 citizens presently living in the Medicaid gap — those folks who earn roughly $11,000 to $16,000 a year who don’t qualify for Medicaid and who can’t afford to purchase a policy on Your Health Idaho, the state exchange.

You cannot convince us that helping suffering neighbors is outside the margins of promoting the health and well-being of Idaho citizens, or that it is too costly. In our series of editorials covering this matter , we have made the financial case for expanding Medicaid in Idaho as one means to serve those without health care or insurance. Today, though, we want to consider an even more compelling reason to assist those who can’t help themselves.

We as citizens, legislators and Idahoans have a moral obligation to help the 78,000. Though political bodies and committees can find collective institutional cover when they want to look the other way, we know that is not the nature of individual Idahoans. We see compassion and courtesy in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at our jobs and places of worship — in every corner of the state. We extend charity, or “well-being,” to strangers without a mandate because we can imagine ourselves in their plight.

If we could just open our eyes to some facts and lose the erroneous perception that those languishing in the gap population are lazy layabouts, it would be clear that helping them also helps Idaho.

Our neighbors who exist in the gap are the working poor who tend to reside in that statistical status for 13 months or less. We know this because there is an overlap with people who access food stamps and other assistance, and the record bears this out. Providing health insurance to people in this status isn’t an invitation to entitlement. It is a temporary station, a ticket back to self-sufficiency — a value shared by our Legislature and its citizenry.

Many of us are just a job loss or medical diagnosis away from slipping off the life track we thought we were on. It’s not pretty or easy to get back.

It must be understood that ignoring the large number of uninsured has consequences beyond them: It is a lousy use of resources to administer care at emergency room rates, especially when an inevitable health crisis overtakes someone who could have avoided it with preventive care; there’s a societal and economic penalty to pay when we fail to get otherwise productive people back in the game.

Whether Idaho secures coverage for our gap population through Medicaid expansion or via some customized Idaho solution is not the issue. Whether or not you believe that health care is a “right” is not the issue.

The issue is simple: It is the right thing to do.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@ idahostatesman.com.

Health Care Study Committee

The next meeting of the Legislature’s health care committee studying this issue is 9 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, in room WW17 in the Statehouse. The committee is accepting public testimony that day.

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