Medicaid expansion in Idaho is officially under attack. Just this week, Treasure Valley Rep. John Vander Woude proposed a laundry list of restrictions—including very unpopular forced work restrictions—designed to deny thousands of working Idahoans health-care coverage. His bill, essentially, would repeal what nearly two-thirds of Idahoans voted for.
The reasoning behind Vander Woude’s anti-health-care bill is novel: He doesn’t think Idahoans knew what they were voting for. In his view, Idahoans didn’t have the wherewithal to research Medicaid expansion and its benefits, its positive economic impact on the states that have implemented it and the lifeline it would provide to Idaho’s rural hospitals. In Vander Woude’s eyes, we’re all too dumb to weigh in on an issue that will affect tens of thousands of our friends, family members and neighbors.
I beg to differ.
Over the last year, I personally knocked on more than a thousand doors throughout Idaho. I talked face to face with people from all walks of life about Medicaid expansion. My fellow volunteers at Reclaim Idaho knocked on more than 100,000 doors statewide. Collectively, we spoke directly to Idahoans about the benefits of expanding health-care coverage to people in the health care “gap,” bringing home $400 million in tax dollars to our state and providing security for Idaho’s rural hospitals. The vast majority of people we spoke to agreed that Medicaid expansion was a great opportunity for Idaho.
However, some Idahoans disagreed. I know, because I talked to them. No matter how compelling the argument in favor of Medicaid expansion was, some people still were not convinced. But, that’s what happens in a democracy. While I respectfully disagree with their position, Idahoans all over the state heard the argument in favor of Medicaid expansion and voted “no” anyway.
Did they not understand what they were voting against?
Having met with so many Idahoans across the state on this issue, I can tell you our electorate is much more informed than one Treasure Valley legislator thinks. Idahoans voted for stronger communities, fiscal responsibility and security for Idaho families when they voted to approve Medicaid expansion. My fellow volunteers and I stand ready and willing to introduce Vander Woude and his anti-health-care colleagues to these voters throughout the state. Once they’ve actually met their voters, perhaps they will have a change of heart.
More than 57 percent of Vander Woude’s legislative district voted to approve Proposition 2. Canyon County (where he lives) also approved the initiative with 57 percent of the vote. These are the same people who voted Vander Woude into office. That presents an interesting conundrum, given that he thinks Idahoans don’t know what they’re voting for.
Idaho’s ballot initiative process is a constitutionally protected right. If you meet the requirements under state law to put an issue to the voters, they have a chance to decide. The “will of the voters” is not just a catchphrase—it’s a concept embedded in our state constitution for more than a century.
Idahoans knew exactly what they were voting for when they approved Medicaid expansion. If our elected lawmakers actually met with their voters, they would know that.
Emily Strizich is the co-founder of the organization Reclaim Idaho.