Monday afternoon, PMC Board Chairman Brent Gaylord told the I-O, “Residents of this area have an opportunity to improve the health of their low-income neighbors and the financial well-being of our medical facilities.”
Uninsured Montanans frequently avoid routine, preventive health screenings and obtain health care only when they are very sick, Gaylord commented, in a report done by the Montana Association of Healthcare Providers (MHA).
Roughly 20 percent of Montanans – as many as 195,000 persons – currently do not have health insurance coverage. An estimated 69,000 of these are low-income residents of the state.
Often this care is obtained in hospital emergency departments (ER) and is the most expensive avenue for care. “This drives up health care costs for all of us,” he said.
This session of the state legislature is considering an expansion of health insurance through Medicaid for childless adults with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
“Insurance coverage for low-income Montanans can change that,” says Gaylord, “by ensuring appropriate care in health clinics, rather than emergency rooms. This will result in a healthier population and will reduce health care costs.”
Medical facilities throughout the state will benefit since uninsured Montanans often cannot pay their medical bills.
In 2012, Montana hospitals alone provided about $350 million in medical care for which they were not paid, of that, about $125 million was provided at no charge to low-income Montanans, according to the MHA.
This doesn’t include uncompensated care provided by physicians and other providers.
These uncompensated costs cannot be absorbed by hospitals and are passed on to Montanans with insurance.
Gaylord says, “This is a hidden tax and can be eliminated by expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income individuals. In turn, this will help slow the growth of healthcare costs in our state.”
A coverage expansion will also present Montana an opportunity to redesign the way care is delivered to Medicare beneficiaries.
The MHA notes a number of human service programs currently funded by the general funds could be transferred into the new Healthy Montanans program and be paid for entirely by federal funds.
“Concerns that the federal government may change the program or reduce the funding available can be addressed by a ‘circuit breaker’ that would eliminate the program in those circumstances,” the board chairman said.
Expanded coverage will significantly boost the states’ economy by as much as $6 billion. Thousands of jobs, as many as 12,000, according to one study will be created in communities across the Big Sky.
Gaylord noted that, “Sen. Llew Jones and Rep. Rob Cook need to know voters in this area support a coverage expansion and Medicaid reform. Please contact them.”