Opinion Piece: Medicaid Expansion is the single most important issue in the 2018 Midterms

On July 17th, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney officially declared that the Medicaid Expansion Initiative, Prop 2, will be on the November 6th ballot so all Idahoans can finally decide to solve the healthcare crisis for people in the coverage gap. For 7 years, the super majority Republican State Legislature has blocked the voices of 1.7 million Idahoans and has refused to even allow a vote or a hearing on this issue. But more than 1,000 volunteers recently decided enough was enough. We took matters into our own hands and knocked on tens of thousands of doors in every corner of Idaho, asking Idahoans to sign petitions to get Medicaid Expansion on the ballot.

Skeptics warned that there was no way volunteers would be able to collect 56,192 signatures including 6% of voters in 18 different districts (most of them rural) in the brute of the winter cold and snow. Against all odds, in a super red state, where progressive values are typically disregarded by a lopsided legislature, unpaid volunteers persisted and fought because we knew how important it was to deliver health insurance to the 62,000 hard-working, tax paying Idaho citizens who fall in the gap. 

The Reclaim Idaho group led by Luke Mayville and Garrett and Emily Strizich sparked a catalyst in the hearts of organizers. The campaign was able to organize people to talk to voters all across the state who faced these real issues and show them that accepting Medicaid Expansion funds (that we pay into)  is not a partisan issue. Voters are outraged that our elected officials have continually refused to bring back the hundreds of millions of dollars Idaho taxpayers have been sending to Washington to be spent in states like New York and California, Louisiana & Montana, that have expanded Medicaid. Voters don’t understand why our Republican legislators are ignoring the plights of their constituents who have to decide whether they are going to put food on the table, or pay their health insurance bills. 

As volunteers collected signatures, citizens’ stories became more real and more heartbreaking. We took ownership in our responsibility to get this done because we knew that the legislature was never going to act. Throughout the campaign trail, as I collected 1500 signatures, it was people’s stories that moved me to go out and get more. I could write a book about all of the stories I heard, but in this piece, I will only tell the story of one Idahoan that really moved me. 

Out in front of the DMV on the day of the School Bond elections on March 13th, I took the initiative to skip two of the classes I had that day and collect signatures for a 12 hours. It was a hard day, standing out that long, I was not sure how I was going to make it the whole day, but I also realized that I was privileged to have health insurance and not have to worry about being too sick but unable to afford care. For many Idahoans I collected signatures from, that was not the case. One young man I talked to that day was 23 years old, and was at the DMV with his two younger brothers who he takes care of. Jacob told me that he is in his second remission of cancer. He said he is grateful he beat cancer, but is also scared that it may come back. He is fearful is because, since his dad died and his mom is in jail, he has to take care of his two younger brothers. If his cancer were to return, the state will tell him that he makes “$132 too much to qualify for Medicaid subsidies from the federal government” and he will be forced to pay out of pocket for his expenses even though he only makes about $13,000 a year. The cost for his bills to take care of his cancer will greatly surpass his annual income, and there will be absolutely no way for him to take care of his brothers, so the government will have to take his brothers away from him. 

People in even the most rural of areas of Idaho were also able to relate to these stories. Some of those worst off live in areas where Donald Trump and Mitt Romney had won in by 90% or more of the vote. Unfortunately, these voters have been unable to realize that the people they have been voting for have been legislating against their interests. The Republicans these voters have casted their ballots for have ignored their constituents’ plights and stripped them of their ability to obtain proper health insurance. 

That is why, on November 6, Reclaim Idaho’s campaign is more important than ever. We need to pass Prop 2 to expand Medicaid to 62,000 Idahoans, and we need to elect candidates who will go into the State Legislature and fight to protect Medicaid expansion. It may seem like an obstacle to get Democrats in rural areas elected, but it also seemed like an obstacle to collect enough signatures to get Medicaid Expansion on the ballot. Reclaim Idaho volunteers believe  that if we fight hard and persist through grassroots campaigning, Democrats can actually win in this red state. Progressive values such as providing healthcare to Idahoans are popular, and we just have to talk to these voters to get them to realize it. 

That is why it is now more important than ever for people to get involved and help with campaigns. We can not just sit idly by and hope that this blue wave is going to happen. Sitting back is not how we got Medicaid Expansion on the ballot. The Reclaim Idaho campaign was won because 1,000+ volunteers got together and worked hard to get it done. We do not have many days left until the election--only 98 days since this piece has been published!  So my final words to readers is to find a campaign to work on, so we can deliver more wins in November like we did on July 17th when we put Medicaid Expansion on the ballot. 

-Joe Goode, IDYD College Chapter Chair, field director for Swisher for Congress 

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Carter Jones