This Thanksgiving, thousands of Idahoans were thankful for the gift of health care.
Idaho’s Medicaid Expansion program, enacted last year by popular vote, will go into full effect starting Jan. 1. Tens of thousands of Idahoans will finally have a chance to see a doctor. For many, it will be for the first time in their adult lives.
Understandably, we’re seeing an outpouring of gratitude directed at the people who made Medicaid expansion possible: the thousands of volunteers who picked up clipboards and went door-to-door, neighbor-to-neighbor and collected signatures to qualify Medicaid expansion for the 2018 ballot.
The Post Register newspaper recently profiled one volunteer named Amy Pratt, of Idaho Falls. A school-bus driver on weekdays, Amy spent every weekend for nearly four months walking door-to-door as a volunteer and engaging her neighbors about Medicaid expansion.
Amy didn’t walk door-to-door for a wage. She wasn’t paid a dime for her efforts. She had access to health care through her employer, so she didn’t do it for herself. In her own words: “I did it because everybody else needed it.”
It’s not surprising so many Idahoans are welling up with gratitude for Amy and thousands of other volunteers who set aside time to make Medicaid expansion a reality. Unfortunately, some of our state’s most powerful legislators are not so grateful.
Consider an op-ed by House Speaker Scott Bedke and three other powerful Republican legislators. The op-ed falsely claims that Medicaid expansion will harm 15,000 Idahoans by throwing them off of their health insurance. The truth is, those in question will be eligible for Medicaid coverage that is both higher quality and more affordable.
Bedke’s op-ed disparages Medicaid as a form of “public assistance.” But the fact is that the private insurance exchange is subsidized by taxpayer dollars just as Medicaid is. In fact, Bedke’s plan to push Medicaid-eligible Idahoans onto the state exchange is predicted to cost Idaho taxpayers an additional $42.5 million per year.
Most unfortunately, the op-ed goes on to refer to those who collected signatures as a “paid-signature-gathering group” and as “Prop 2 salespeople.” Speaker Bedke and his co-authors lead readers to believe the driving force behind Medicaid expansion came from out of state. The fact is that Reclaim Idaho launched the entire campaign in a volunteer’s backyard in north Idaho. Active teams of volunteers formed in at least 25 counties, from Bonners Ferry to the Teton Valley. Volunteers like Amy Pratt collected 96 percent of the required signatures. (Editor’s note: Though volunteers may have collected 96 percent of the number of signatures required to put the initiative on the ballot (56,192), according to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, Reclaim Idaho submitted 75,134 signatures. Reclaim Idaho says volunteers collected 54,100 signatures. That would amount to 72 percent of the signatures submitted.)
For many volunteers, the Medicaid expansion campaign was their first time actively participating in the political process. The campaign was their introduction to the difficult, rewarding work of self-government.
It’s a shame that legislative leaders would insult and malign the volunteer efforts of thousands of ordinary Idahoans. It’s especially surprising to see this type of smear come from the pen of Speaker Scott Bedke—a man who, by all accounts, is a kind and decent person who takes public service seriously. In short, Speaker Bedke, you’re better than that. And we all know it.
In this season of Thanksgiving, Speaker Bedke and other Idaho leaders should be heaping gratitude—not scorn—on those who volunteer their time to improve our state. This would seem especially true in the case of those who worked to solve the Medicaid crisis—a crisis our political leaders failed to address for six straight years, even as tens of thousands of hardworking Idahoans waited desperately for action.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to every volunteer who said enough is enough and took matters into their own hands. Thank you for securing health care for tens of thousands of Idahoans. Most of all, thank you for proving our system of self-government still works—that a determined group of ordinary citizens can still come together and make a difference.
Luke Mayville is co-founder of Reclaim Idaho.