Group says proposed bill would eliminate Idaho’s health care gap

Posted in Moscow/Pullman Daily News: Thursday, February 25, 2016 12:00 am | Updated: 8:16 am, Thu Feb 25, 2016.

By Samantha Malott, Daily News staff writer

At least 78,000 Idahoans fall within the health care coverage gap, but Christine Tiddens, who works with Close the Gap Idaho, says the Healthy Idaho Plan proposed under Senate Bill 1205 would ultimately eliminate that gap.

Tiddens, policy director for the Idaho Asset Building Network, spoke via a conference call during a League of Women Voters meeting Wednesday at the 1912 Center, along with Latah County Commissioner Tom Lamar and Krista Kramer, independent living coordinator with Disability Action Centers Northwest.

Lamar said he believes the state has an opportunity to close the coverage gap with this bill in an effective way both for the state and residents.

When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, it was intended to ensure that everyone would have affordable access to health insurance, but the Supreme Court ruled states could not be mandated to expand Medicaid, Tiddens said.

Because Idaho has not expanded Medicaid, there is a coverage gap, which includes extremely limited access for children, the very poor, parents and some disabled individuals, she said.

A single adult working minimum wage and 40 hours a week would qualify for federal subsidies for health care coverage, Kramer said. If that adult were to have one child, though, the parent wouldn’t qualify under the current system, she said.

These individuals make up roughly 5 percent of the state’s population. Of that group, 84 percent are employed, working in industries such as food, health care, office and administrative positions, Tiddens said.

Idaho also has the highest number of uninsured veterans per capita in the country, with 3,800 veterans and another 1,200 spouses falling into the gap, she said. Twenty-one percent of those 78,000 uninsured residents also suffer from mental illnesses, she said.

For those without insurance there is the option of preventive care at local community health centers – generally run as nonprofits – but those centers are limited in what they can provide, she said.

Many people will instead put off preventive care until their issue becomes a crisis and they end up in the hospital emergency room, she said. If they are living in poverty they are not going to be able to afford the bill, she said.

Many will then have to seek indigent funds from the county. The first $11,000 of a bill is covered through the county’s indigent fund, she said.

Lamar said the county commissioners in Latah County review each individual application for indigent funds and anything not covered goes to the state crisis indigent fund. In Latah County, the indigent fund is budgeted for $550,000, Lamar said.

Lamar said the county has already had a reduction in the number of people requesting assistance because they have been able to receive health care coverage.

Tiddens said hospitals also have to absorb some of the costs, which can lead to higher bills and insurance premiums for everyone.

In 2015, $30 million was paid out through indigent funds throughout the state, she said.

Idaho now has a choice, Tiddens said. Under the Healthy Idaho Plan, the federal government would cover 90 percent of all the costs for medicaid expansion, she said.

The benefits would include providing coverage to all 78,000 uninsured residents and eliminating the state and county indigent funds, she said. It would also create approximately 15,000 jobs and prevent hundreds of deaths each year, she said.

“There is a possibility for something to move,” she said.

“This isn’t a Democrat and Republican issue,” Lamar said. “We know that for this to pass it has to be a bipartisan effort.”

Samantha Malott can be reached at (208) 883-4639, or by email to