Governor Bullock: Montana needs Medicaid Expansion

Feb 26, 2015

Governor Bullock: Montana needs Medicaid Expansion, Char-Koosta News, February 26, 2015   RONAN — Last week Governor Steve Bullock paid a visit St. Luke Community Healthcare Center to discuss the importance of expanding Medicaid and lend an ear to providers about the serious cost of uncompensated care that is faced in the area. In the 2013, the Medicaid Expansion proposal was shot down by a Republican-led Legislature. “People can dislike the president, they can dislike the Affordable Care Act, but those 150 (legislators in Helena) are there to do right by the state. We need to get this done,” Bullock told the health care providers during the meeting. According to Gov. Bullock, Medicaid expansion is federally funded, and if Montana doesn’t expand its Medicaid program, then Montanans tax dollars will be used to help patients in states like Arizona, Nevada and North Dakota - states where Republican Governors are leading the effort to expand Medicaid. The Governor’s message is, “If we fail to act, Montana taxpayer dollars will be used to provide health care to the citizens of states thousands of miles away, while our rates will continue to go up year after year.” Medicaid is the state-federal health insurance program for low-income families. If passed, it will provide health care to an additional 70,000 Montanans. It is a part of the health care reform. The federal government has promised to pay nearly all costs of the expansion for the states – if states agree to it. Bullock said expanding Medicaid would cut down on health care costs and also spread health care costs at the same time. “When people aren’t insured the financial burden fall onto those who are,” he stated. He explained that people who can’t afford health care don’t pay their bills, the costs are shifted to those who have insurance. St. Luke CEO Steve Todd expressed to Gov. Bullock that the hospital serves high percentage of low-income patients and turning them away should not be an option. On January 1, the federal government made funds available to states that choose to expand their Medicaid programs to those, with income 138 percent below the federal poverty level. Because Montana legislators refused to accept the fund, Montana has been losing as much at $1.96 million of federal funds every day according to a recent Commissioner of Securities and Insurance report. According to a report by The Bureau of Business and Economic Research, “The Importance of Public Health Care Funding to the Montana Economy,” University of Montana, dated December 2010, the funding will not only provide health care coverage, it will also help to create jobs in the state and communities across Indian Country in Montana. Expanding Medicaid coverage will effectively increase demand for medical services, as newly covered individuals seek both preventative and critical care. This increased demand will allow medical facilities to purchase new equipment and supplies, hire more medical and support staff, and fund building renovations and new construction. By refusing the federal dollars, Montana is losing out on $143,750 a day in potential state and local tax revenue that would be generated from new jobs created by the expansion, according to a MBPC report. Most importantly, 70,000 low-and moderate-income Montanans would be eligible for Medicaid coverage which includes: 9,500 veterans and their families, 20,000 Native Americans, and 43,000 working adults. According to a Montana Budget and Policy Center report there are 33 states with a large Native population and Montana ranks the highest of any in uninsured American Indians (40 percent); and the second lowest in number of American Indians with private insurance (28 percent). Among Natives ages 18 – 64, 57 percent are currently uninsured. Montana also has the fourth highest number of American Indians reported to have access to underfunded Indian Health Service clinics. According to Laura John, MBPC Tribal Policy Analyst, although IHS clinics serve American Indians regardless of insurance status, it has been severely underfunded with current funding covering only 60 percent. “Expanding Medicaid has the potential to improve health care access for American Indians and in the long-run reverse health disparities in Indian Country,” John stated. John added that the expansion of Medicaid would not only expand access to health care for the recipients, but would also increase the capacity of IHS to meet the health care needs of American Indians more generally. Current and newly eligible American Indian Medicaid enrollees may continue to seek care from IHS-run, tribal, and urban Indian clinics. The other angle of the expansion bargain is the potential is to free up monies in the IHS bucket. “When a Medicaid recipient seeks services at such a clinic, IHS can seek reimbursements from Medicaid. These reimbursements free up IHS funds to increase and improve their core services. In addition, the demand for contract health service funds will decline, as patients newly covered by Medicaid can seek services outside of IHS without using limited CHS funds. The potential impact of these changes is far-reaching and will help provide tribal communities the means necessary to close the health disparity gap between American Indians and the general,” says John. According to a January MBPC report, a Lake County expansion could add over 480 jobs and generate $20,030,000 in labor income annually. Without expansion, 2,534 people in Lake County – mainly parents and other adults working for low wages - will be left without insurance. Democratic Rep. Pat Noonan of Ramsay will present HB 249 on March 6 in the House Human Services Committee. Women’s Policy Leadership Institute will hold lobby training and issue briefing at 9:30 a.m. at the Capitol on March 6. Lobbying will begin at 11 a.m., with workshops at 1 p.m. The Healthy Montana Plan hearing will begin at 3 p.m. To arrange car pools with WPLI, call Micah at 406-317-1504. If unable to make the hearing folks are encouraged to contact their representatives to support HB 249 at the Capitol switchboard, 406-444-4800.
Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.

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