Rep. Elaine Smith Decries “Cruel” House/Senate Healthcare Bills

Rep. Elaine Smith Decries “Cruel” House/Senate Healthcare Bills

Rural Idahoans, in Bannock County and beyond, are about to take one on the chin. Children living in rural Idaho will take one to the gut as well. A Legislative colleague of mine recently said that the “cruelty” of the current House and Senate healthcare proposals “was shocking.” How we as Idahoans can look our neighbors in the eye and say we’re in favor of these bills is beyond me. That’s not the Idaho I know.
In case you missed it, the House’s American Health Care Act (even they couldn’t stomach using the word “Affordable” in the title) and its Senate counterpart will kick between 22 to 23 million Americans off healthcare according to the Congressional Budget Office. Most importantly to Idaho, the bills will slash nearly $1 trillion in Medicaid funding over the next ten years. Even though your tax dollars go toward the Medicaid program, you won’t see any of that money. The savings will be sent back to America’s big coastal cities where the one-percent live. In exchange, the federal government will take $1 billion in healthcare investments away from Idaho, leaving thousands of rural children and seniors (who have paid taxes their entire lives) in a lurch. What makes this worse is that your elected U.S. Representatives and Senators are in on the job.
Here’s something you may not know: 35% of Bannock County’s children receive Medicaid benefits. In Bonneville County, it’s 32%. While those numbers may seem shocking, they are tame compared to places like Custer, Lewis, Lemhi and Adams County where half of children benefit from Medicaid. With numbers that high, my remark about “looking your neighbor in the eye” is not hyperbole. In Bannock and Bonneville Counties, you likely have someone on your block whose children or parents will lose healthcare access under the House and Senate bills. In certain Idaho counties, it’s likely a next-door neighbor.
The cruelty doesn’t stop there. A recent analysis estimates 135,000 Idahoans of all stripes will lose coverage under the House bill – including those who receive health benefits through their job. Both bills inject uncertainty as to what will happen to people with pre-existing conditions. In Idaho, there are a staggering 662,000 people who fall into that category. When you add in the 78,000 Idahoans who are in the “gap” population, fully one out of three Idahoans risk losing access to healthcare over the next ten years. Again, that means that someone whose home you can see from your front porch will come home one day and find out they don’t have health coverage. Imagine having to tell your child you can’t afford asthma medication. Or, telling your mother she will have to move to a state facility to live out her golden years. There is a reason we pay taxes every year in Idaho to protect our children and honor our parents. And now, the federal government wants to take it from us.
Idaho’s Democrats have written and commented at length about the quarter-billion dollars in unclaimed wages Idaho workers leave on the table every year because we lack an educated work force. That was a big reason why Bonneville County voters approved a measure this year to convert the Eastern Idaho Technical College into a community college. Many of those high-paying jobs can be filled by people with a two-year degree or certificate. Here’s the problem: kids who don’t have access to health care don’t do as well in school as those who do. This makes sense. If your child suffers from diabetes, respiratory illness or simply gets sick a lot, they’re not going to care that much about school. They’re not going to be able to learn how to become an electrician, a skilled manufacturer or engineer. How well would you concentrate if you weren’t sure whether you’d have your medicine next week? Taking healthcare away from Idaho’s children leads to bad results in the classroom which decreases their chances of getting one of those high-paying jobs. The connection isn’t that hard to figure out. That’s why I used the word “investment” to describe Idaho’s healthcare dollars. Healthy children pay dividends as adults that benefit all of us.
America is the most prosperous country in the world. However, Idaho gets left out of that prosperity year after year. While the majority has finally recognized the economic value of education – in all of its forms – it is now willing to squander whatever gains we’ve made on that issue by kicking Idaho’s children and seniors off of healthcare. A sick child doesn’t care much about their education and probably won’t think about their future beyond their next asthma attack. That’s why I oppose the House and Senate healthcare bills. I want to be able to look my neighbors in the eye and see Idaho prosper, even if our elected officials can’t and don’t.