Guest Opinions

Idaho’s health districts call for affordable insurance for gap population

Steve Scanlin
Steve Scanlin

When people come through the doors of their local health department in Idaho, our goal is to help them become healthier citizens. However, the truth is that sometimes their health needs are far greater than the services we can provide, and in many cases these patients will end up in emergency rooms seeking care for late-stage serious health conditions that could have otherwise been diagnosed and managed without further complications.

More than half of our patients fall into Idaho’s insurance coverage gap — and the majority are from working families. It is estimated that 78,000 Idahoans simply can’t afford health insurance, so they go without health care.

In the United States, lack of health insurance is associated with as many as 44,789 deaths per year. In Idaho, an estimated 76 to 179 people will die annually if the state does not expand health insurance coverage. Since the mission of our public health districts is focused on preventing disease, disability and premature death, we find it unacceptable that we allow Idahoans to suffer and die because Idaho hasn’t implemented a solution to provide access to health insurance for Idahoans in the coverage gap.

Idaho’s seven district boards of health recently convened for their annual meeting and unanimously passed a resolution supporting affordable health insurance for low-income Idahoans. Resolution 16-01 declares unified support of health insurance coverage to individuals and families whose incomes are between zero and 100 percent of the federal poverty level to ensure health care with the most cost-effective delivery system.

Among the 53 members of Idaho’s district boards are physicians, nurses, educators and a host of other professions — all of us appointed by county commissioners and each united by the vision of Healthy People in Healthy Communities.

We recognize that regardless of household income, we all face illness or medical emergencies at some point in our lives and need access to health care. We want the health care coverage gap to be closed in our state and jointly declare our support of well-founded, viable efforts from Idaho’s Llegislature to address this health care crisis.

We have many public health challenges facing Idaho. Finding solutions to scenarios such as rising obesity, low childhood immunization coverage, and some of the highest suicide and prescription-drug-abuse rates in the country can seem insurmountable.

We have an answer for closing the health insurance coverage gap that will improve the health of Idahoans — provide more efficient and cost-effective health care, and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

Creating affordable insurance for low-income residents is the answer. We need a complete solution to this issue that includes access to comprehensive health care coverage, so that Idahoans with chronic conditions can receive treatment early and prevent more costly care down the road.

Idaho’s local health districts want everyone in our communities to be healthy, not just those with adequate resources. We look forward to supporting action by the Legislature in 2017 that will close Idaho’s coverage gap.

Steve Scanlin, a Boise attorney, is a former Idaho deputy attorney general and a member of the the Central District Health Department Board of Health, which he has chaired for the last nine years.