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Idaho's Health Care Woes Need Solutions, Not More Roadblocks

Statement by Jim Wordelman State Director for AARP Idaho

BOISE, Idaho, Jan. 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As members of Congress figure out the next steps to take to tackle health care reform, Idaho's health care woes continue to grow worse by the day.  It's time for Idaho's state and federal lawmakers to step up to the plate for Idaho's families, businesses, and retirees to deliver solutions as opposed to more roadblocks to addressing this critical issue.

The "Health Freedom Act," recently passed by the House State Affairs Committee, raises some very serious concerns.  The legislation appears contradictive to existing state law.  While state lawmakers passed a law requiring students to carry health insurance, they now seem on the verge of attempting to stop the federal government from enacting a similar mandate.  Negating such a law seems like a step in the wrong direction, leaving one of the fastest growing populations of uninsured (19-34 year olds) at even greater risk -- forcing many into emergency rooms to receive basic care.

In the midst of a state budget crisis, Governor Otter has vowed to fight a health care reform which has yet to fully take shape and whose details have yet to be negotiated, dedicating significant state dollars to do so.  Some estimates say he'll spend over a million dollars on the effort.  

In Idaho, as Governor Otter and our state lawmakers prepare to make sweeping cuts to our state budget  -- including cuts to Medicaid and programs and services that provide health care in communities to hundreds of thousands of people -- they also stand to make the health care crisis worse for people across the state.  Health care reform at the national level could help alleviate the pain, by delivering more money to the state of Idaho, preventing harsh budget cuts and bringing much needed relief to the hundreds of thousands of Idahoans struggling as health care costs soar and wages don't.

As Idaho leaders at both the state and federal level look for ways to address the worsening health care crisis, they must not turn a blind eye to the growing problem in their home state.  In Idaho, over 221,000 people lack health insurance, nearly 90% have jobs -- for most, the cost is simply too high.  Nearly 400,000 Idahoans spend 10% of their income on health care; over 100,000 spend upwards of 25%.  Twenty-seven percent of our state's 213,00 Medicare beneficiaries fell into the prescription drug "doughnut hole" -- forced to pay full price for their medications -- with many having to cut pills or stop taking them altogether.  In the next few years health insurance premiums will double.  

It won't be easy to get our health care system on the right track and ensure everyone has affordable access to the care they need and deserve.  It will require commitment and leadership from both state and federal lawmakers of both political parties, and it will mean a mix of national and state solutions to tackle a problem facing nearly all of us.  

The good news is we can get there from here.  In fact, we must get there from here -- and AARP will work with Governor Otter, our state Legislators and members of Congress to ensure Idaho families aren't forced to go without the medical care they need.

AARP is Idaho's largest membership organization with 180,000 members.




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