Health care advocates rally to 'close the gap' at Idaho Statehouse

BOISE, Idaho - More than 100 health care advocates held a rally at the Idaho Capitol asking lawmakers to address the state's uninsured population.

Organizers with Close the Gap Idaho say lawmakers should advance legislation that would expand Medicaid eligibility to roughly 35,000 residents and lower premiums for those who purchase health coverage on the state-based health insurance exchange. However, that bill has since been deemed dead for the year due to a lack of Republican support.

"If you're a parent, that means, in a family of three, if you make more than $5,000 per year you cannot qualify for Medicaid in our state," Dr. Andrea Christopher said. 

About 78,000 working Idahoans are believed to be in the gap population that earns too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to qualify for insurance subsidies.

"How on earth can there be a situation where thousands of people make too much money to get help and too little money?" Nichole Stull, an advocate speaking at the rally, said. "That is a bizarre, bizarre place to be."

Idaho could resolve this gap population by expanding Medicaid eligibility, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, but lawmakers have repeatedly rejected such efforts.

Organizers are also asking lawmakers to solve for Idaho's physician shortage. Idaho currently ranks 49th in the nation for physicians per capita. 

Legislative budget writers approved a boost in funding for medical residencies for the state next year. Twenty-five new residencies would be added under the proposed budget, but speakers at the rally say more could be done so that residents can access health care. 

"On behalf of my field, on behalf of our state, on behalf of the friends and family that I have lost to mental illness, that you have lost to mental illness, please, let's decrease these barriers and close the gap," Dr. Ryan Billington, a psychiatry resident in Boise from Kootenai County, said. 

Legislators are expected to adjourn March 23. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

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