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Reader comment: Graham-Cassidy would have been devastating for Idaho

In July, the U.S. Senate voted down a health care repeal bill that would have raised cost and reduced coverage for people across Idaho. Three months later, a new proposal emerged that poses an even more serious threat to Idaho’s health care system. Sens. Lindsay Graham and Bill Cassidy are pushing a bill that removes protections for people with pre-existing conditions, guts Medicaid, and slashes funding for health coverage in Idaho by almost $1 billion in 2027. Most concerning are the proposed deep cuts to Medicaid that put many vulnerable Idahoans at risk, including my 7-year-old daughter.

My daughter has Down syndrome, autism, hearing loss and is nonverbal. She also has fought through seizures and battled cancer in 2012. We are a middle-class family who has been fortunate to have decent employment and employer-provided insurance. Yet, Medicaid has kept us from going medically bankrupt by covering the medical needs of our daughter that our primary insurance wouldn’t. Medicaid helped cover her cancer treatments and makes it possible for her to be tested regularly to ensure she is still in remission. She has an oral aversion and can only get her nutrition through a feeding tube. Our insurance covers her equipment, while Medicaid covers the expensive supplemental nutrition. Without these supports, she wouldn’t live long. Medicaid has literally been a lifesaver for our daughter.

We live in a rural part of Twin Falls County where Idaho Medicaid provides health coverage to 33 percent of children. Health care services are limited and Medicaid plays a significant role in keeping kids healthy. With Medicaid we have access to medical care, therapies and home- and community-based services. These services help many people with disabilities — including my daughter — communicate, socialize, function, and thrive in the community. Medicaid cuts like those proposed by Graham-Cassidy would disproportionately harm rural Idaho by reducing payments to providers or rolling back eligibility for the program. This could cause many health care providers to shut their doors or stop providing services to Medicaid recipients. Seniors, people with disabilities, and working Idaho families with children on Medicaid are at risk.

It’s time Congress started focusing on other pressing health care issues, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program. If Congress does not act soon, many states, including Idaho, will be out of funding for the program by the end of December. The distraction caused by the misguided Graham-Cassidy repeal has jeopardized both CHIP funding and our chance to stabilize insurance markets. Right now is the time to focus on a bipartisan effort to strengthen our health care system, and we need everyone — experts, patients, hospitals, seniors, people with disabilities and Idaho families — to defend Medicaid and the health of Idahoans, like my daughter.

The Graham-Cassidy proposal is not a health care repeal bill; it’s a Medicaid repeal bill. Please contact Idaho’s members of Congress now and tell them to put stop the political games and partisan brinkmanship and turn their focus to improve our current system.

Idaho View: State Legislature should step in on SWITC

This appeared in the Idaho Press-Tribune:

The Southwest Idaho Treatment Center in Nampa is having its share of problems right now.

As reported by the Idaho Press-Tribune, the treatment center is being sued for what one mother says is the wrongful death of her adult son, who died after being held at the treatment center for just two months. That comes amid an internal and police investigation into what the state Department of Health and Welfare is calling abuse and neglect.

In August, six employees were disciplined after an investigation showed two of the employees had psychologically and/or physically abused residents and four others failed to report it, according to Health and Welfare officials.

Also in August, a 27-year-old man was found dead at the facility, and Nampa Police are investigating the incident as suspicious.

And, according to the Idaho Press-Tribune’s reporting, since Sept. 1, 2016, the Nampa Police Department has received and responded to 48 calls from the treatment center, though some of these calls are follow-ups. Twenty-one of the 48 police responses were incidents of battery, all of which occurred on separate days except for June 22 and June 26, where two separate battery calls were made. For the past three years, police have responded to about 40 calls on average per year from the treatment center. One recent case involved a resident leaving the facility and throwing rocks at structures, cars and people.

Further, the Idaho Press-Tribune learned through a public records request that four tort claims and one lawsuit have been filed against the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare since September 2016, the most recent being filed Aug. 30.

The details of the four tort claims were not made available to the newspaper.

We commend the Department of Health and Welfare for investigating the situation, and we would appreciate the department being forthcoming with information.

We are glad to see the department decry abuse or neglect. We also appreciate what is no doubt challenging work being done by the dozens of good people working at SWITC. As Health and Welfare spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr said, “Six employees were disciplined, but there are more than 100 other employees doing good work and following policies and procedures.”

That said, there appears to be enough smoke here to warrant a deeper look at whether there’s fire.

We think the situation calls for the state Legislature to step in.

Since the facility is located in Nampa, we would call on one of our Nampa legislators who sits on either the Senate or the House Health and Welfare Committee to receive a full reckoning from the Department of Health and Welfare on their findings, not only of the claims of abuse and neglect, but also on what is the general condition and environment at the facility.

This is a matter of taxpayer interest, not only because the facility is taxpayer-funded, but because it has become a public safety issue for residents and the general public. In addition, the taxpayers of Nampa are spending money every time a Nampa police officer is called to the facility.

With tort claims, lawsuits, two dead residents and an internal investigation into abuse and neglect, it’s time for our legislators to step forward, represent their constituents and demand some answers about what’s going on at the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center.

Brugger: Building community

There has been a good bit of positive news in Twin Falls and Idaho lately that has made me feel hopeful about the future. Fair attendance was up. I hope that means that we are enjoying our rural roots. State legislators were informed in creative ways (a luncheon in the street!) about the specific concerns of our area. The Times-News posted the hopeful picture of a recovering Braxten Nielsen on the front page because so many would be relieved to see good news after the scary incident at the fairgrounds. Downtown is beginning to really shape up. And, need I mention, Fit Donuts has come to Twin Falls. This will be a great partner to the ice cream from Cloverleaf Dairy at Lucky Scoop!

I want to shout out to the Idaho legislators who have crafted a solution to the health care situation uniquely applicable to Idaho. It is not my preference, but it is thoughtful and has the advantage of being adopted in Idaho within our current national health care climate. I would love to see even more creativity added as we approach the legislative session.

I’m even more excited about the proposed City Club. There are many clubs in Twin Falls dedicated to civic action, and I think every adult in Twin Falls should choose to be a part of at least one. The City Club will, I think, be especially useful because it will concentrate on information needed to be an informed citizen. It will encourage discussion of current local affairs in an informal, friendly setting. The kickoff luncheon was a great start, and I am waiting to see this develop into something creative.

I’m highlighting some of these things because they show a stark contrast to the overwrought political discussions on various cable channels and in social media. In the past week, we have also seen an example of how a foreign government can propagandize our political discourse for no other reason than to sow seeds of disharmony and suspicion of government at all levels.

The national media took notice of how the Magic Valley pushed back against the forces of discord over refugees, and I was extremely proud of my friends and acquaintances who in large and small ways furthered that effort. Without any kind of a scientific sample, I also note a widening group of people who are interested in building our community around the unique sets of circumstances we have.

As I study the opinions of people who forecast the future in technology, economics, or any of the social sciences, I see the impulse to consider the local in the context of universal wellbeing. We have the most control over our community and our state, and there is a lot we can do to improve the quality of our life without depending on or forcing federal action. We can plan, we can act, and we can invest in our own future.

We cannot hold back the tide of change, but we can form it to our needs. The important ingredient in that sentence is we. Yes, family is important; yes, cultural heritage, religious belief and individual traditions are important. However, we need community to be secure throughout our life. We cannot live without a diversity of skill and innovation.

Twin Falls and the Magic Valley have the ingredients to build a strong and resilient local community. I hope to encourage my readers to be a part of it.