Guest Opinions

Most pressing health issue: Idaho elected officials’ disregard for data

Haley Minnehan
Haley Minnehan

On May 4, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 217-213 to pass a health care reform bill known as the American Health Care Act. Among the “yes” votes were Idaho’s two congressmen, Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson.

Leading up to this vote, Idaho physicians and others, as well as many state and national organizations, spoke out in strong opposition to this bill over significant concern that it will decrease access to health care for millions of Americans. Through provisions such as the elimination of protections for patients with pre-existing conditions (approximately 40 percent of adult Idahoans have pre-existing conditions, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) and allowing caps on insurance benefits, tens of thousands of Idahoans stand to lose access to medical care under the AHCA. Unfortunately, all the concerned voices from Idaho and elsewhere fell on deaf ears in Washington. In fact, the following day, Labrador told an astonished town hall audience in Lewiston, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

As family physicians who have practiced in Idaho’s medically underserved settings throughout our entire careers, we and our medical colleagues witness the downstream consequences of the lack of access to health care for our citizens every day. As a rural state, Idaho has high levels of poverty and high rates of uninsured citizens. Approximately 78,000 uninsured Idahoans fall in the Medicaid gap. It is far too common that we see patients, such as the farmer who presents to the emergency room with a heart attack, and know that early treatment of his high blood pressure and cholesterol could have prevented such a catastrophic event. Or the child-care provider with diabetes who develops an infected sore on her foot and then has to undergo an amputation to save the rest of her leg. Or the grocery clerk with the late cancer diagnosis, and the stories go on and on.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that a lack of health insurance leads to lack of access to health care. In addition, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in December 2009 reported that being uninsured is associated with higher mortality rates. The data is clear: Idahoans who don’t have access to health care are living sicker and dying younger.

However, Idaho’s biggest public health challenges are not our physician workforce shortage or even the lack of coverage for the Medicaid gap population. The more pressing public health problem is our elected officials’ glaring disregard for data and science in making health policy decisions that affect all the citizens of Idaho.

We respectfully urge Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch to reject this proposal as it moves to the U.S. Senate. It is our hope that you will work on real, evidence-based solutions for the health of America and your constituents in Idaho.

Mary Barinaga, M.D., is a family physician and president of the Idaho Rural Health Association. Haley Minnehan, M.D., is a family physician and president of the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians.