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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana's Medicaid Expansion Plan Gets Green Light From Feds

Steve Jess
State Senator Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) speaks at the announcement, as Governor Steve Bullock and Holly Blouch of Kalispell look on.

Monday, Montana officially became the 30th state in the nation to expand its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare. The announcement at the state capitol was part news conference, and part pep rally, as Governor Steve Bullock thanked a crowd of supporters for everything they had to endure, including months of legislative maneuvering.

“And most recently you waited for the federal government to give our made in Montana proposal the green light.” Bullock told a gathering of supporters in his office. "I am pleased to stand before you today to say that for over 70,000 Montanans the wait is finally over”

Credit Steve Jess
Supporters of Medicaid expansion were invited to the Governor's office for the announcement.

Bullock introduced his partner in the political process, Republican Senator Ed Buttrey of Great Falls, who stressed the “made in Montana” nature of the plan that reflects the state’s values, calling it "a solution that focuses on jobs and economic development. Can you believe that... a healthcare solution focusing on jobs economic development and individual responsibility ...keeping Montanans’ money in Montana and most importantly, the ongoing health and prosperity of our citizens.”

Montana’s plan calls for some recipients to pay a token premium that still might pose a challenge for some living just above the poverty level. It also asks participants to take part in a job skills survey. Both of those features were the subject of intense negotiations between the state and federal governments.

The state expects about 45,000 of the estimated 70,000 eligible low-income people to sign up. For many, it will just mean having access to check-ups and other wellness care, but for a few it could literally be a lifesaver.

Holly Blouch of Kalispell says Medicaid expansion will make it possible for her to get on dialysis, and eventually get a kidney transplant.

“I had a procedure done for dialysis, so the hope with that was that I would be able to get on Medicaid because once you're on dialysis you qualify for it.” Blouch said.“ The procedure they did did not work so then I didn't qualify for Medicaid, so then I now have to pay for all that medical out of pocket and back to square one again.”

The announcement that the Federal Department of Health and Human Services had approved Montana’s request for a waiver came Monday morning, in time for people to start applying for the new Medicaid benefits which take effect on January first.

Blue Cross-Blue Shield won the contract to administer the program back in September. Spokesman John Doran says much of the infrastructure work has been underway since then. Now that the waiver is in place, BCBS will turn to outreach, Doran says.

“We will do everything possible to advertise, to get the word out about the program, both through non-traditional means such as digital advertising and Pandora and Facebook. We will also work with DPHHS on folks who already identified as being eligible, and then we will work with our partners, the providers of course, that provide the point of sale service information when Montanans who might be eligible for the program, who are not already enrolled, to get that information they need to go enroll.”

The official portal to the expanded Medicaid program will be the same site used by people around the country, although the state has set up a page that explains the Montana program in detail.

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