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Medicaid Expansion Supporters Gear Up for Summer Push

County clerks have until June 30 to verify signatures for a ballot measure to expand Medicaid coverage in Idaho. (Reclaim Idaho)
County clerks have until June 30 to verify signatures for a ballot measure to expand Medicaid coverage in Idaho. (Reclaim Idaho)
May 29, 2018

BOISE, Idaho – A campaign to pass Medicaid expansion in Idaho at the ballot box is preparing itself for a summer push. The ballot measure has hit the threshold for signatures, but supporters are still waiting to hear if they received enough signatures in at least half the state's legislative districts.

If the measure does qualify, its biggest asset could be the grassroots network that sprung up to collect signatures this spring. Emily Strizich is co-chair of Idahoans for Healthcare, a group backing the measure.

"We assumed all of these dedicated volunteers were going to be exhausted and just want to kick their feet up," she says. "But all of our volunteers have been contacting us and saying, 'What can I do next, how can I help, what do you guys need?' The people are so enthusiastic about getting involved in this and making a difference."

The health-care expansion would help about 62,000 Idahoans who make too much for Medicaid but too little to qualify for federal subsidies to help them pay for insurance. Opponents want to stay out of Obamacare, saying it will be costly for the state.

A coalition of groups supporting the measure includes the American Cancer Society's Idaho Chapter, Idaho Academy of Family Physicians, and the Consortium of Idahoans with Disabilities.

A poll by Idahoans for Healthcare found 66 percent of residents support expansion, including 53 percent of Republicans and 77 percent of Independents. Strizich agrees there is backing across the political spectrum.

"I think there is a small minority of vocal opponents to this," she notes. "What we have seen crisscrossing the state is overwhelming support for this idea - from Republicans, Independents, Democrats alike."

Strizich says Idahoans are ready to give a voice to the state's uninsured. While gathering signatures, she heard from a woman who was taking care of her grandchildren and fell into the health-care gap. When diagnosed with a serious medical condition, the woman had to decide if she would sell her house to afford medical treatment.

"Here was this woman that, her whole life, had done everything right," she adds. "She'd played by the rules of the game. And through no absolutely fault of her own, she was finding herself with this terminal diagnosis - and she fell into the gap."

The deadline for Idaho county clerks to verify signatures is June 30.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID