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Idahoans Rally at Capitol to Close Health-Coverage Gap

A bill that's stalled in the Idaho House would make health insurance more affordable for an estimated 35,000 Idahoans. (Close the Gap Idaho)
A bill that's stalled in the Idaho House would make health insurance more affordable for an estimated 35,000 Idahoans. (Close the Gap Idaho)
March 16, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – Hundreds of Idahoans rallied in the State Capitol on Thursday to urge lawmakers to close the health-care coverage gap.

Medical professionals, faith leaders, and people experiencing the "gap" want to see a vote on the Idaho Health Care Plan, a bill to extend tax credits to 35,000 uninsured Idahoans. House Bill 464 would also allow patients with high-cost health issues to get Medicaid.

Supporters say it would cut the number of uninsured in half and reduce premiums 20 percent overall by removing the highest-risk patients from the individual market. Dr. Ryan Billington, a psychiatry resident in Boise who spoke at the rally, says for some people, this is a life-or-death issue.

"For mental illness, we need time to be able to do accurate diagnosis and form effective treatment plans with our patients,” says Billington. “Each of those things requires multiple visits – and multiple visits without health insurance is honestly, just not an option."

After the rally, people staged a "die-in" in front of Gov. Butch Otter's office. HB 464, which has the governor's support, stalled in the House more than a month ago.

Opponents say it represents government overreach by increasing the Medicaid rolls, and will cost taxpayer money to cover those in the insurance gap. Lawmakers plan to wrap up the legislative session by March 23.

Rally-goers also want funding for graduate-level medical education, to help Idaho address its doctor shortage. The Gem State ranks 49th in number of physicians per capita.

Billington says the plan would expand the number of residency positions in the state, making it more likely that these doctors would stick around after their training ends.

"And we know that if the number of primary-care physicians in a population goes up, and people have access to those physicians,” he says, “that the health of the population improves and it actually costs less money."

Outside of the Legislature, the group Reclaim Idaho is gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative that would expand Medicaid in the state.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID