More than a century ago, close to 700,000 Americans died from the so-called “Spanish flu,” which swept across the world with lightning speed. In the end, the disease infected more than one-third of the earth’s population, resulting in 20 million to 50 million deaths. The virus likely infected President Woodrow Wilson. Of course, this all happened before the advent of Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP or any other program that delivers quality health care to millions of Americans every day. We can use the word “quality” today because America’s public health-care system is truly a marvel compared to 1918. The problem is, too few Americans—and Idahoans—have access to it.
That has to change—and quickly.
As of this writing, more than 1,400 Idahoans are infected with the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes, known as COVID-19. That number is expected to jump in the coming days and weeks. As a result of government action, Idahoans are being ordered to stay home. While this can dramatically curtail the number of people who contract the virus, it’s not good for business. Businesses all over the state—particularly small businesses—are either shuttered or running on a skeleton crew. This is a necessary yet painful measure intended to keep us safe, even if it leads to financial stress on tens of thousands of Idaho families. A big contributor to that financial stress is health care. On average, Idahoans pay a large portion of their income on medical costs, whether it’s insurance, deductibles, co-pays or a combination of all three. For anyone faced with a job loss, this stress can pile up in a hurry. As you read this, thousands of Idahoans are in jeopardy of losing health-care coverage as they lose their jobs. For those with families, this is a nightmare scenario.
Thankfully, there is something you can do about it.
Around 70,000 more Idahoans have health care coverage today thanks to Medicaid expansion—the Reclaim Idaho-sponsored ballot measure that passed with 61 percent of the vote in 2018. Your vote on that program could not have come at a better time. Enrollment in Medicaid is a year-round thing which will help thousands more Idahoans dealing with sickness, job loss or both going forward. Your vote not only gave tens of thousands of Idahoans health care access—it may be saving lives as we speak.
However, there are two actions you can take to help your family, friends and neighbors in this once-in-a-generation crisis: (1) spread the word about Medicaid expansion and (2) urge Gov. Brad Little to open up enrollment in Idaho’s health care exchanges. Working Idaho families struggling to keep their homes, their health and their livelihood will all benefit.
First, there are thousands of Idahoans who qualify for Medicaid expansion who don’t know it. This could, literally, be life-saving care. As you have no doubt noticed, social media traffic is through the roof these days. You can use your own private network to save lives. Send friends and family to reclaimidaho.org to find out if they qualify and learn about how they can help others get enrolled in the program. It’s easy. And it could make the ultimate difference in someone’s life.
Second, it’s time Gov. Little opened up Idaho’s health care exchanges so people can sign up outside the enrollment period. While there are exceptions to the enrollment period based on sudden job loss, navigating the qualification standards can be complex and tedious. Gov. Little should eliminate all that. Too much is at stake. Visit reclaimidaho.org/exchanges to sign the online petition calling on the governor to do the right thing and open up the exchanges to thousands of Idahoans who are losing their jobs.
COVID-19 does not care where you live, what your political affiliation is or how you make your living. It is a deadly disease affecting thousands of Idahoans in terms of their health care options, their jobs and their future. Leaving any of those things to chance is unnecessary and, frankly, cruel. No one in Idaho should have to live through this pandemic without health care.
Please go to reclaimidaho.org and make a life-saving decision today.
Luke Mayville is the co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, a progressive political action group based in Boise. Rebecca Schroeder is its executive director.