Idaho knows how to solve problems. Water rights, teacher salaries, an Idaho-run health insurance exchange — all are examples of Idahoans taking on tough problems and devising Idaho solutions. “That’s too hard,” didn’t stop leaders from tackling these issues.
This session, the Idaho Legislature is staying on track with money for the recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education. This year, legislators approved more than $100 million, a 6.3 percent increase, reflecting much-needed things like raises and professional development for teachers.
We cite this accomplishment not only as a necessity to strengthen our public schools, but as an example of how the Idaho Legislature and its citizenry can work together to do what’s best for Idaho.
What we must see is this same collaboration to solve other issues: relief to the 78,000 of our Idaho neighbors who languish “in the gap” without options for health insurance; and long-term solutions to pay to start whittling away at our backlog on infrastructure and transportation woes.
Four years ago, the Legislature brought an Idaho solution to dealing with the federal mandates thrust upon the state by the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As a result of the hard work and collaboration, the Your Health Idaho exchange is among the most solvent, sustainable success stories of state exchanges. Unlike other states, which have as few as one choice of insurance provider, Idaho has five that offer multiple plans for the public.
We are disappointed the Legislature has yet to find that Idaho solution to cover the gap population — those people who can’t afford to purchase insurance in our exchange, but who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Lawmakers have resisted the option to expand Medicaid to cover the uninsured — and they have failed, to date, to come up with any relief for our neighbors, whom we know “live sicker” and “die younger,” according to one doctor’s testimony.
The rationale of waiting to see what the “federal government is going to do” — before the 2016 presidential election, after the 2016 presidential election, and now after the failed attempt to repeal and replace the ACA last week — has been just a convenient excuse for inaction.
It’s time for our legislators to tell us what “the state government is going to do.”
The same goes for the inability to address the pressing near- and long-term needs of infrastructure and road maintenance around the state. The Legislature has considered some stopgap money to pay for the ragged section of freeway in Canyon County, but has refused to address the serious remedies needed to deal with hundreds of millions in unfunded highway maintenance and construction needs. “Tax cuts” ring hollow to citizens without health care or those driving over increasingly unsound and unsafe roads and bridges.
It is clear the Trump administration wants to disengage from providing solutions to the problems facing states. Though the GOP health care plan failed, it ought to be understood that the preferred solution is simple: Here’s the money, states, solve it. As citizens and voters, we must take the hint from the feds and insist our lawmakers frame our own solutions.
Our Legislature has demonstrated an ability to recharge education and find Idaho solutions by creating our own health insurance exchange. Let’s demand they stop playing the federal waiting game and make these two issues our top priorities: the health care gap and transportation maintenance deficit.
Nobody is going to do it for us, and nobody can do it better than us.
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