Guest opinion: How to lower healthcare costs in Idaho

Dr. Tommy Ahlquist

As Idaho families and small businesses continue to face skyrocketing healthcare premiums, career politicians continue to talk and talk about the problem. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the talk. I’m tired of rhetoric. I’m ready for politicians to step aside and let those of us who’ve worked in the healthcare industry get to work because -- having served as an ER doctor for 18 years – I can tell you that lowering healthcare premiums for hard-working Idaho families and businesses is absolutely possible.  And the time to act is now. 

First, how did we get into this mess?  Back when I started in medicine, the healthcare relationship was between a patient and a doctor.  Care was based on transparency and patients were charged what it cost for the care they received.  Enter the federal government.  The problem with healthcare in the United States starts and ends with government policies and practices over the last several decades that drove healthcare from a primary care centric delivery of care to a hospital centric delivery of care. These federal policies resulted in an all-out assault on free-market principles and transparency – and overloaded every aspect of the healthcare industry with regulation, mandates and artificial fee schedules that drove up costs.

As an ER physician, when you enter a critical patient’s room – you diagnose and treat.  And as governor, I already know the diagnosis and how to treat Idaho’s ailing healthcare system.  So how can Idaho’s healthcare premiums and costs be reduced, while bettering our healthcare system in the process?  The answer is to stop all the political talk and take action:

REFORM MEDICAID.  First and foremost, Idaho state government can and must take action to stop Medicaid waste, fraud and abuse and manage the dollars spent to stretch Medicaid funds more effectively saving taxpayer dollars and providing better care.  Managing Medicaid spending and instituting smart policy with individual accountability has already been done in other states and when I’m elected governor – it will be done in Idaho.

ROLLBACK INSURANCE MANDATES.  Did you know that before Obamacare just over 10 mandates existed on insurance policies offered in Idaho and post-Obamacare now we have an unfathomable more than 50?  We can and will return to pre-Obamacare mandates and flexibility in insurance policies – dramatically reducing healthcare premiums in Idaho.

CREATE A HIGH-RISK POOL WITH A TRUE MEDICAL HOME.  We will create a robust high-risk pool designed to treat our uninsurable with a true medical home for primary care and case management – saving millions of taxpayer dollars and further reducing premiums in Idaho.

AGRESSIVELY PURSUE STATE SOLUTIONS FOR PHARMACEUTICAL COSTS.  Idaho can and will lead the nation in formulary control and pushing back on carve outs and policies that favor drug companies – reducing costs for patients and taxpayers.

ADDRESS THE SHORTAGE OF HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS IN IDAHO.  Idaho will be facing a critical shortage of primary care providers in the coming years.  We can and will develop the infrastructure needed to provide telemedicine opportunities to control cost and invest in programs that keep medical providers in Idaho. Access is critical to keeping Idahoans healthy and saving taxpayer dollars.

The bottom line for Idaho is that we will be judged not only by how we take care of our most vulnerable, but also how we address the crisis of the skyrocketing healthcare costs facing our families and small businesses. I invite each of you to join us as we take on the status quo and career politicians who have politicized healthcare, given in to special interests and lobbyists and allowed bad policy to destroy our healthcare system. 

My opponents in the race for governor have combined political careers spanning 27 years, yet in all that time, there has been no reduction in healthcare costs for Idaho families or businesses. I served as an ER doctor for 18 years and can tell you definitively that healthcare premiums and costs can be lowered in Idaho.  It is time to dig in, buck the status quo and take action to make a difference for the people of Idaho. It’s time to stop talking – and get stuff done.