SANDPOINT — By signing the green 1977 "Medicaid Mobile" camper, several local community members joined the "Medicaid for Idaho" tour Tuesday evening as it began a statewide journey to bring awareness to Idaho's health care coverage gap.
Luke Mayville said he knows it is going to be a tough road as he and Garrett Strizich travel throughout the state in the "Medicaid Mobile" to talk about the importance of preserving and expanding Idaho's Medicaid program.
"There are a lot of people who are against us," Mayville said. "This isn't going to be easy ... But we really believe that if we come together, if we come together as Democrats and Republicans, as independents and unaffiliated, as young and old; if we come together as business people and as Bernie people; if we come together not just in downtown Boise, but in rural Boundary County, from the Panhandle all the way down to Pocatello — we believe we can win."
The "Medicaid Mobile" began its journey across Idaho this week with the launch rally at Farmin Park Tuesday, and then headed north to Bonners Ferry Wednesday. From there, Mayville and Strizich will head south to continue the conversation and put pressure on the Legislature to expand Medicaid in Idaho.
Medicaid is a federal-state program that helps pay for health care for the needy, aged, blind and disabled, and for low-income families with children. A state determines eligibility and which health services are covered, and the federal government reimburses a percentage of the state's expenditures. Idaho's eligibility requirements are listed on the Health and Welfare website, healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.
Dr. Scott Dunn, a local family physician, spoke to the group gathered at Farmin Park Tuesday about the "thousands" of Idahoans without coverage, which, he said, is known as the health care coverage gap.
"We have been trying to get the Legislature to wake up to this issue, and to try to address this issue, for several years and it has seemingly fallen on somewhat deaf ears," Dunn said.
About 78,000 Idahoans fall into the coverage gap, he said, because they fall below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $24,600 for a family of four. In states with expanded Medicaid coverage, those whose income is below 138 percent of the FPL qualify for Medicaid based on income, according to healthcare.gov. In states without expanded Medicaid, those who fall below 100 percent FPL do not qualify for either income-based Medicaid or savings on a marketplace health insurance plan. Medicaid expansion has been adopted by 31 states, and Idaho is not among them.
"As a result, it is estimated that Idaho has lost about 300 lives per year," Dunn said. "An estimated 15,000 jobs have been lost that would have been created by expanding Medicaid coverage. More than $700 million per year in lost economic activity. These are not small numbers; these are real numbers."
Tuesday's crowd also heard from local nurse practitioners Cynthia Dalsing and Mary Fiedler, who described their experience with Bonner County community members in the health care gap.
"Right now, insurance is running our lives," Dalsing said. "I know people who get married to have insurance, I know people who don't get divorced so they can keep insurance, and I know people who have died because they don't have insurance. So I feel like it's timely and I am really proud to be part of the group that is kind of kicking off this campaign, because I do think it's time to let our legislators know what we at the community level are dealing with."
The Reclaim Idaho campaign was recently founded by Mayville and Strizich to strengthen public schools, protect public lands and extend healthcare to working families. The mission of the Reclaim Idaho campaign it to organize a grassroots network of volunteers across the state to "mobilize" people to "elect candidates into the Legislature who believe in those goals as well, Mayville said.
"We want the election of November 2018, the election of our next state legislators, to be about one single question, and that question is this — Will Idaho continue to aspire to be a middle class society?" Mayville said. "... When we say middle class society, we are not just talking about the upper middle class ... When we talk about the middle class, what we mean is every single Idahoan who is struggling to provide some basic level of economic security for themselves and their family, and provide some basic level of education for their children."
Mayville, Yale graduate, author and postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University, is a 2003 Sandpoint High School graduate, who credits his success to the education he received in the Lake Pend Oreille School District. In March, Mayville learned through Strizich that the $17 million supplemental levy, which covers one-third of all operations in the district, had a chance of failing. So, he flew home to Sandpoint and organized a door-to-door campaign to advocate for the levy, and about 60 volunteers joined him in his effort.
Following that campaign and the passing of the levy, Mayville and Strizich decided to start a new campaign, Reclaim Idaho, which launched last week with a presentation on public education at the Panida Theater.
Rae Charlton of Sandpoint said public education is "dear to her heart," so she attended the event last week featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Sandpoint native Marilynne Robinson. She came out to Farmin Park Tuesday as well to support Mayville and Strizich in their endeavors.
"They are just so brave to be putting themselves out there," Charlton said. "I admire their courage and their dedication."
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.