Guest Opinions

Legislators show they will stop at nothing to silence the will of Idahoans

Mistie Tolman
Mistie Tolman

Our elected leaders worked overtime during this legislative session to silence Idahoans. Our legislators removed the heart of Medicaid expansion. Republican leadership and our governor chose to turn their backs on Idahoans in need by passing Medicaid work requirements. A move in exact opposition to the will of the people, and an abuse of power that undermines the people’s vote.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate pulled out all the stops to strip away people’s voice.

Medicaid expansion is a no-brainer. Sadly, Idaho remained committed to short-circuiting this legislation. Why? It is beyond me. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), states can expand their Medicaid program so that it’s available to more people — to anyone whose income is below 138% of the federal poverty level. Without expansion, Medicaid eligibility is narrow and covers only small segments of low-income communities.

Idaho could save hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs by helping people access preventive care, but, of course, elected leaders are standing in the way.

Medicaid expansion primarily impacts women, people of color and people in rural communities. Idaho lawmakers are choosing to punish these people.

By implementing Medicaid enrollment restrictions that mandate work requirements, it allows for narrow eligibility and limited enrollment into the program. This puts additional burdens on those who face other barriers to work, such as transportation, housing and education.

In addition, the bill includes a family planning clause making it so Medicaid expansion recipients would face additional barriers to family planning services, as there is now a mandate to receive a waiver from an assigned primary care doctor to access this care.

There is no question the process with Medicaid expansion has been fraught since the initiative passed in November, with 61% of voters in favor.

And how can we forget SB 1159, a bill that wanted to amend how Idahoans bring issues to the ballot. Gov. Brad Little had to step in and veto that bill – even though he said he agreed with the premise. The actions that took place in the Statehouse just lead voters to believe that the Legislature is corrupt.

Our legislators aren’t listening. Not only do Medicaid work requirements create unnecessary obstacles to coverage for enrollees, but they raise costs in the health care system for everyone.

We will do everything we can to keep fighting against these efforts because I am part of an organization that is motivated by our mission to improve access to sexual and reproductive health care, reduce numbers of unintended pregnancies, and improve overall health outcomes for all people – all of which expanding Medicaid expansion as originally intended would accomplish.

It goes without saying that the events that conspired over the course of this legislative session show just how much we must fight to protect our constitutional right to organizing ballot initiatives, and for our right to access health care. People’s lives depend on it.

Mistie Tolman is Idaho state director of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii.