expanded medicaid.fwAs of today, 32,850 more Montanans have insurance than at this same time last year. That means that 32,850 more people can feel comfortable getting medical care when they need it most without the fear of leaving with a huge medical bill. If someone falls on slick winter sidewalks and breaks a bone, they won’t be saddled with a medical bill nearing $10,000 at minimum. If a patient is in dire need of a kidney transplant, they won’t lose their place on the transplant list because of a lack of insurance.

Uninsured adults were forced to make the choice between paying for prescriptions or paying monthly bills. Seeking preventative care was out of the question and a visit to the doctor was in case of emergency only.

Prior to expansion, 40,000 Montanans were living within the health insurance coverage gap. The coverage gap refers to the population of adults with no children and an income below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Childless adults are not eligible for Medicaid in states that have not expanded Medicaid eligibility. Premium (the money you pay to have an insurance policy) subsidies through the ACA were only available for people with income at least 100% of the FPL. Without a premium subsidy, the monthly out of pocket cost to have health insurance coverage ranges from $200 to almost $800 per month. Adults with no children living in deep poverty were therefore not eligible for Medicaid or any premium subsidies, leaving health insurance financially out of reach.

First steps were taken to expand Medicaid in April 2015 when the Montana legislature adopted the Montana Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership (HELP) program. The HELP program was implemented in November when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved Montana’s waiver to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Medicaid was officially expanded on January 1, 2016. Medicaid Expansion covers an additional 70,000 low income individuals.  Expanded eligibility covers adults between ages 19 and 64 without children living at home with an income at or below 138% of the poverty level ($1,350 a month for one person). Prior to expansion, Medicaid covered the elderly and persons with disabilities, children, pregnant women, and low-income families. Roughly 27,000 Montanans were enrolled in the first two months following the November decision to expand Medicaid coverage.

Making sure that all eligible Montanans are covered is the goal of Cover Montana. Cover Montana is a project of the Montana Primary Care Association that is designed to help Montanans across the state obtain affordable health insurance coverage, find local help from an enrollment assister, determine eligibility for tax credits or cost reductions, and learn more about health insurance basics.

Medicaid Expansion improves the health of our communities, brings medical jobs to the state, and makes critical access hospitals more financially sound. Medicaid Expansion was Missoula Food Bank’s first officially supported legislative measure. Missoula Food Bank has recently become a Cover Montana partner and will continue working to connect eligible Montanans with life-saving medical coverage.


 

To learn more about the issues Missoulians in poverty face, join us for Food for Thought on Thursday, March 17th at noon at Missoula Public Library. Julia Cramer, Policy Analyst at the Montana Budget & Policy Center, will be discussing the earned income tax credit (EITC). The EITC is a powerful financial tool that raises millions of families out of poverty every year. This will be the third presentation in a series of discussions on finances & eligibility. A Panel Discussion with all three speakers will be held on Wednesday, March 23rd at 5 PM at Missoula Public Library.

Thank you to Courtney Buys, AmeriCorps VISTA and Communication and Outreach Coordinator with the Montana Primary Care Association, for sharing this information on Medicaid expansion and healthcare during February’s Food for Thought presentation.

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