Rural Health Policy Project

This Thanksgiving, Idahoans are Extremely Thankful for Medicaid Expansion

Little Kid Children Eating Corn Thanksgiving Celebration Concept

“I just received my acceptance letter that said I was approved for Medicaid! I’m so grateful for everything you have done for my family. You’re amazing, much love and many blessings…” Anita S.

“My coverage will start January 1, 2020 and now hoping to get to be able to work again where the pain has not allowed me to.” –Sherry C.

“I just got my letter the other day and it’s official, as of January 1st we will have coverage! Thanks for ALL your work in making this happen! It is huge for so many people!” – Jessica R.

“I was at the Health and welfare office a few days ago and they asked me if I’d like to pre-enroll for Medicaid and the hairs on my arm stood up and tears came to my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was sitting there and it was actually happening! …- Bryn B.

As I’m watching emails from Idahoans in the coverage gap arrive in my inbox, it makes the years of sweat, tears, and disappointing and somewhat traumatic legislative sessions all worth it.

I first joined the Idaho Voices for Children team in 2017 to document the stories of Idahoans who would be impacted by cuts to Medicaid during the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act and cutting Medicaid. I met Idahoans with disabilities and parents with children covered by Medicaid who explained to me how Medicaid made it possible for them to be healthy and thrive in their communities.

I also met a lot of people who were impacted by Idaho’s failure to expand Medicaid. Once efforts to cut Medicaid and repeal the ACA were defeated, I got to work documenting the stories of uninsured Idahoans who were in the coverage gap due to our state’s failure to expand Medicaid.

It was not easy work and I heard many heart-breaking stories. I talked to people that lived in all corners of largely rural Idaho – all the way from the rural back county near the Canadian border to urban Boise. These were parents with low wages, caregivers, construction, retail, and service workers. Many had untreated health conditions that affected their ability to work and care for their families, often resulting in catastrophic financial and health consequences. Needless to say, they already had a lot on their plates. Yet, they showed up for the past two years to share their stories. All bared their personal lives to the world and bravely came forward in the midst of their busy lives so that all Idahoans could have access to healthcare. They spoke at our press conferences, testified at hearings, shared their personal stories on social media, and spoke with legislators. They kept the drumbeat going and made the coverage gap a central issue in Idaho, which ultimately led to Medicaid expansion qualifying for the ballot box.

Idahoans in the coverage gap then became the face of the campaign to expand Medicaid. On election night November 6, 2018, we watched together as the final numbers came in, and Idaho voters passed Medicaid expansion by a landslide with 61% of the vote. But their work wasn’t through. When the Legislature failed to implement Medicaid expansion, Idahoans in the coverage gap again showed up to testify at legislative hearings and called their legislators, imploring them to uphold the will of the voters. By the end of the 2019 Legislative Session, the first wave of funding was finally authorized, and Medicaid expansion was set to begin January 1, 2020.

While there is a long way to go before everyone eligible for Medicaid coverage is signed up and Medicaid is defended from further attacks, for now I am happy to report that many Idahoans are finally on track to get the healthcare they need and the coverage gap is closing. We have so much to be thankful for.

By Hillarie Hagen