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The latest Montana politics, elections and Legislature news.

Montana Officials Prepare For Medicaid Expansion Rollout

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After an initial rush, the rate of people signing up for the state's Medicaid expansion program has slowed as health care officials prepare for next month's rollout.

Federal health officials approved Montana's program last month, making the state the 30th to expand Medicaid to the working poor under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Federal approval was needed because the state's program will require recipients to pay premiums and co-payments, and the program will be administered by an outside company.

Jessica Rhoades with the state health department today told the legislative committee overseeing the expansion that about 5,500 people signed up during the first week of November, when enrollment opened. Since then, an additional 5,000 people have enrolled.

Montana's program is the only one in the nation that will be administered by an outside company, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana. The program's federal approval comes with the condition that it is required to have 90 percent of health care facilities and 80 percent of physicians in its network.

Blue Cross President Mike Frank said the company is on track to meet that requirement.

"We have gone out with a separate contract to all of those providers, and as of today we have about 75 percent of the facilities contracted, and over 2,000 independent providers ready to roll on 1/1. So we’re very confident that we will be able to meet the needs of the Medicaid population on January first."

Health Department Director Richard Opper said the initial rush showed "a pent-up need" for the program. Now, officials across the state are working to sign up more of the estimated 70,000 people who are eligible. Opper said "There are people working nonstop” on that.

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