Last week the Trump administration made a historic change to Medicaid, the health coverage program that’s jointly funded by the states and federal government. For the first time, states were given the OK to require Medicaid recipients to work in exchange for health coverage.
Republican lawmakers tried to do that in Montana 2015, but the Obama administration said no.
So when the state Legislature passed Medicaid expansion in 2015, part of that law established a so-called “workforce participation” program. It doesn’t require work for Medicaid, but it does encourage Montanans getting health coverage under the expansion to connect with the state Department of Labor and Industry. The department then tries to help them find jobs, or education and training that can help them get jobs in the future.
Thursday morning the labor department’s Scott Eychner gave lawmakers an update on how it’s going.
"For us at the department, it’s been fantastic. There’s really no other way to describe it," he says.
Eychner says that so far the Department of Labor and Industry has helped more than 20,000 people who were referred to them through Medicaid expansion, people he says the department hadn’t engaged with before.
"They viewed the services that we provided, because generally we’re seen as the unemployment office, as something that couldn’t help them."
Eychner says it’s not just people on Medicaid who are trying to get better jobs who are benefiting, Montana employers are, too.
"The state is facing a labor shortage, and so having access to what would ordinarily be labeled non-traditional labor pools, this being one of those, that’s not some place that we have normally gone or done much with, and so for those reasons this has given us access to that population."
Montana’s labor shortage includes the health care industry. Eychner said three of the top 10 most popular training programs that people getting expanded Medicaid plug into are in health care fields.
People like Amanda Childers from Thompson Falls. She told state lawmakers Thursday that she’s a domestic violence survivor and single mother of two. Childers says Montana’s Medicaid expansion workforce program helped her get training to be a certified nursing assistant and in phlebotomy.
"Which has opened doors for me to get on my feet. It’s opened doors to go down a career path in the medical field to better support myself and my kids. And without that program I don’t think I’d be where I’m at today," Childers says.
There are currently 91,563 Montanans enrolled in the expanded portion of Medicaid here. Three-quarters of those people have incomes of $6,030 per year or less.