Bringing the Economy Home

At Medicaid Panel, A Personal Story And Calls For Change

Molly Messick / StateImpact Idaho

Medicaid recipient Krystal Esterline and her guardian Nikki Tangen spoke at today's Medicaid roundtable.

Medicaid recipients, their advocates and service providers want to drive home the point that cuts to the program have real effects for individuals and communities.  At a roundtable discussion this morning they called for a restoration of services that have been reduced in recent years.

At the heart of the broad-ranging discussion was an individual story.  Twenty-two-year-old Medicaid recipient Krystal Esterline talked about the effects of recent service cuts in her own life.  A year ago, she was forced to choose between one service that assists her with depression and anxiety, and another that helps her cope with developmental disabilities.  When she stopped receiving what’s known as psychosocial rehabilitation, she says, things changed.  “Life just went pretty much downhill,” she said.  “I was on a good path when I had my services, and when I lost part of them, I just wasn’t able to cope.”

At Medicaid Panel, A Personal Story And Calls For Change

Esterline, who has fetal alcohol syndrome and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, had been living independently, but her situation deteriorated.  She was forced to move into a group home.  “I lost ways to help with my anger.  So instead of taking deep breaths to cope, I’d hit somebody, or something,” she said.  Esterline moved back into her own apartment last month, but her guardian says her situation is touch-and-go.

DisAbility Rights Idaho Executive Director Jim Baugh says there will be more stories like this as the nearly $100 million in federal and state spending cuts made last session continue to take effect.  He says he and other advocates are drafting legislation to reverse some of the cuts. “We need to reverse the rule that says you have to choose between treatment for your developmental disability and your mental illness,” he said.  That language needs to be changed.”  Restoring preventative dental services for adult Medicaid recipients is another priority.

Another key point came from panel member Mike Ferguson, the state’s former chief economist.  He maintained that the budgets for the two most recent fiscal years were based on artificially low revenue estimates.  That, he says, has taken $235 million dollars off of the table, leaving less for public services.

As the overall cost of Idaho’s Medicaid program rises due to growing enrollment and greater needs, arguments for restored services may face and uphill fight.  For example, this week Republican Representative Steve Thayne said he is exploring legislation to cap Medicaid spending’s share of the state budget.


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