After a dramatic process, health care for all Montanans just got some stability, thanks to our governor’s recent signing of the Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act. The bill, which will continue to provide health coverage for about 96,000 low-income adults in Montana, passed out of the Legislature with bipartisan support at the end of April.
Since 2015, when the state first expanded Medicaid coverage to adults making less than approximately $17,000 a year, Montana’s uninsured rate has been cut in half. Moreover, the 2015 HELP Act has enabled 25,000 Montanans to enroll in workforce training programs to help them get back to work. The policy also keeps the doors open at our rural hospitals and allows other health care providers to render less uncompensated care. The bottom line is: Medicaid expansion is working.
Importantly, Medicaid expansion has been a game changer for improving access to vital health care services as well as preventive medical care. It has shifted costs from more expensive and sometimes unnecessary care—such as a visit to the emergency room—to more cost-effective and proactive wellness and prevention visits. This keeps health care costs lower for everyone. It’s amazing what happens when patients have access to quality health care and care that is delivered at the right time and in the right place.
Montana’s Medicaid expansion program is helping save lives. As cited recently by Dr. Jason Cohen, the chief medical officer at North Valley Hospital in Whitefish, under Medicaid expansion, about 8,200 women received breast cancer screenings, which lead to an earlier diagnosis for 114 of them. In addition, 7,000 Montanans were screened for colon cancer, averting 2,600 cases of colon cancer. Medicaid expansion also provides mental health services for 32,000 Montanans, in addition to substance abuse services for more than 8,000 people. These statistics are more than just numbers – they represent our friends, neighbors, colleagues and family members.
Medicaid expansion is as much an economic boost as it is an improvement in quality of life for our patients. From supporting health care in rural communities to providing health coverage to employees of Montana’s small businesses, the program keeps our economy going strong. Three in five Montana businesses have one or more employee enrolled through the program. Since 2016, more Montanans eligible for Medicaid has helped create a healthier workforce, supported new jobs and created more than $2 billion in new economic activity in our state.
There’s a clear connection between healthy communities and economic success, and by passing the Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act, our state policymakers are supporting both.
We’re looking ahead now, to a more stable healthcare industry, healthier patients, and vibrant communities in Montana. Thank you to Governor Bullock and all the legislators that put partisan differences aside to craft a bill that works for Montana.
Jason Spring is chief strategy officer at Kalispell Regional Healthcare, and is a board member of the American Hospital Association and the Montana Hospital Association, who advocated for Medicaid expansion.