the Healthy Idaho Plan 

Closing the Medicaid 'gap' will lead to a healthier Gem State

The Idaho Oral Health Alliance would like to voice support for a legislative decision regarding health care access for the people of Idaho: closing Idaho's health insurance coverage gap by supporting the Healthy Idaho Plan.

The Healthy Idaho Plan will help roughly 78,000 Idahoans receive the health care they need while saving our state and counties precious tax dollars.

As a statewide nonprofit created to focus on optimal oral health for Idahoans, the IOHA has long paid attention to the many correlations between good oral health and healthy Idahoans. Many ailments and root causes for some diseases can be traced back to poor dental health, so our board and members adamantly support overall health for our citizens and join in the efforts to close the gap of health care coverage.

We know that, without affordable access to preventive health services and general medical care, everyone suffers. We respect that it may, in some cases, be difficult to politically support this initiative, but we believe it is in the best interest for the overall health of Idaho citizens—especially those who are most vulnerable.

Close the Gap's Healthy Idaho Plan provides a more comprehensive source of health care for people at high risk for poor health. Access helps Idahoans get needed preventive care and to catch disease early, which translates into a wiser use of state and counties' tax dollars. Idahoans have a chance to help tens of thousands of our citizens and save our state money by treating diseases before they become catastrophic.

Although Idaho's uninsured rate has dropped since the creation of the state's health insurance exchange, roughly 78,000 Idahoans still fall into the coverage gap and still lack access to basic health care. This disparity is even more pronounced when it comes to access to oral health care.

In Idaho there is a significant number of children and adults who lack not only access to basic oral health care, but to health care in general. Idahoans without access to affordable health care are at a disadvantage, and eliminating the disparities that lead to inaccessibility should be a priority for our policy makers. Our state can play a significant role in helping create a healthier population by passing the Healthy Idaho Plan. While we acknowledge that dental coverage is not currently part of the proposed measure to provide basic health care to Idahoans that fall within our coverage gap, the IOHA supports its passage because we support a healthy Idaho.

Sadly, this isn't just an Idaho issue. At a national level, there is an unacceptably high occurrence of oral disease that leads to other significant health complications. Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood, and 47.2 percent of adults have destructive periodontal disease that can result in pain, tooth loss and infection that can cause or exacerbate other medical issues. Patients with chronic diseases, like diabetes, have increased risk for adverse health outcomes if their oral complications go untreated, and the costs for related health care treatments skyrocket.

Idahoans who are not able to afford preventative health care because of lack of insurance find themselves in the emergency room for serious, expensive issues; these issues can be traced back to more simple health needs like wellness care and management of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. Primary care providers are the first line of defense in catching and treating health issues early on.

While we applaud the governor for taking the first step to address access to primary care through the Primary Care Access Program, we believe that comprehensive health care, through the Healthy Idaho Plan, must be the ultimate solution to this issue. While Medicaid Enhanced Adult Dental Benefits are not part of the current conversation, giving our gap population access to basic health care will put them in front of a medical provider who can identify these issues early and can help them get the care they need, including issues related to oral health.

While the Idaho Oral Health Alliance will continue to work toward reducing disparities of access to oral health care, we join with many others in supporting the Healthy Idaho Plan.

Primary care access is a first step, but not the final solution to this problem. It is time for our lawmakers to take a significant step forward and help our fellow Idahoans by providing access to medical care so they can be healthy, provide for their families and successfully contribute to our economy.

Graham Paterson is Advocacy Committee chair and treasurer of the Idaho Oral Health Alliance board of directors. Jennifer Wheeler is executive director of the Idaho Oral Health Alliance.

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