Doctor blames Idaho legislature for deaths

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

Dr. Kenneth Krell didn’t mince words Tuesday when testifying before the Idaho Legislature on its resistance to Medicaid expansion. He laid the blame for 1,000 Idahoan deaths at their feet.

Dr. Kenneth Krell.

Dr. Kenneth Krell.

Krell’s testimony concerned the Medicaid coverage gap in Idaho, which leaves about 78,000 Idahoans without an option for health insurance. Under the circumstances, those who make more than 138 percent of the federal poverty level are able to purchase health plans from the Idaho legislature with  subsidies available based on income. Those under the federal poverty level have access to healthcare through Medicaid. But those in that 38-percent gap find themselves without options. Idaho lawmakers have the option to fill the gap by expanding Medicaid, but have refused to consider it out of opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

According to Krell, director of critical care at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, that decision has resulted in the deaths of 1,000 Idaho residents in the past three years. He held the legislature responsible for those deaths, according to the Spokesman-Review.

“It’s been said that perhaps it’s an ideological difference, that we just don’t want to accept federal dollars,” he said in his testimony. “But if that were true, I don’t see that we would see many in the Legislature accepting federal dollars for federal farm subsidies. … All of us have insurance, and it hasn’t led to dependency on our part. I could only come to one inescapable conclusion: That the Idaho Legislature is unfortunately responsible for those deaths.

Krell based those figures on a study in the New England Journal, which found that a failure to expand Medicaid resulted in 19.7 deaths per 100,000 population. He also derived it from his own experience, in which he encountered uninsured and sick patients on a “near-daily” basis. That included Jenny Steike, who died from asthma.

“Our intransigence in failing to pass Medicaid expansion for the last three years has probably resulted in over 1,000 deaths in this state,” he said. “Please help us. I would ask you to please stop the killing. Thank you.”

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