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Obamacare deadline

Olivia Riutta - Montana Primary Care Association

MTPR Commentary - 02/27/2014

We are now just one month away, from the March 31st deadline to enroll in the new health insurance Marketplace.

When you hear talk of health reform, or the ACA, or Obamacare or whatever you prefer to call it, a lot of things probably come to mind. For me, as a Navigator whose job is to  help folks in my community by answering questions and walking them through the process, I think about Bill, a man I met in southeastern Montana.

A decade ago, Bill’s family had to sell the ranch to survive and he has worked part-time ever since. For years, he paid for health insurance until it just got too expensive at almost $400 dollars a month, so he dropped it.

Bill was not too sure about Obamacare and the Marketplace, but we walked through the application, I answered his questions, and he was able get good private insurance that covers everything from doctors visits, to prescription drugs, to the emergency room, from the same company that insured him before, for just $50.00 a month.

But Bill is certainly not alone, in the five months since open enrollment began, thousands of Montanans, from across the state, have signed up and we are among the top states in terms of enrollment in the new insurance Marketplace.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise. We are a state that understands that when our neighbor can go to the doctor when they’re sick, when our community has access the health care that they need; we are all better off.

Access to quality and affordable insurance is a big deal. I have helped people who are getting an annual exam for the first time in a decade, they are taking care of a surgery that will allow them to work and support their family, and they are able to afford all of the prescription drugs that their doctor prescribes for the first time ever.

So whether you are a bit hesitant like Bill, or simply haven’t found the time, with just a month left, you need to take the time to see what you might qualify for, to see if insurance might be an option. And if you are like 85% of Montanans who have already enrolled, you will likely qualify for help paying for the cost of your coverage.

But they are not all success stories. So many times I sit across from someone and tell them that because the Montana Legislature chose not to expand Medicaid, they fall in the Medicaid coverage gap and are too poor to get any help. If it sounds crazy you’re right. The 2013 Montana Legislature said “no thanks” to 6 billion in federal funds, which would have helped bring 12,000 jobs to our state annually, and covered 70,000 of our lowest-income neighbors through Montana Medicaid.  

That is a lot of money and lost jobs to simply turn away, but even more so, 70,000 is a lot of families and individuals. To me, Montana’s failure to expand Medicaid is Beth, a woman that I met up on the highline who has stopped chemo treatment because she doesn’t have insurance. Before we did her application, she was so excited about the possibility of having health insurance and being well again.

With her silvery hair just beginning to grow back, Beth’s smile seemed unstoppable. My heart broke when I told her that she didn’t qualify for anything, because she didn’t make enough money. Beth doesn’t make enough money to qualify for help because she can’t work - because she has cancer.

Folks like Beth were supposed to be covered by Medicaid but because our state Legislature rejected the money and failed to expand, now, they have no other option but to remain uninsured.

So we have some work to do. We need come together and expand Montana’s Medicaid program. We need to make sure that the most vulnerable in our communities, get access to health care. Whether Medicaid expansion goes to the ballot or we get it done in a special session, our families and communities can’t wait!

Because no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, no matter where you get your news, we can all agree that folks like Beth deserve better. Our neighbors deserve better. And we can do better; we can expand Medicaid in Montana.

And in the next four weeks, please take the time and check out, see what you qualify for, and enrolled by March 31st. And if you are like Bill or Beth and want to sit down with someone in your community to help answer your questions and walk you through the process, we are ready to help. On you can click “Find Local Help” and get a list of folks in your area.

I'm Olivia Riutta with the Montana Primary Care Association and a certified Navigator. Thanks for listening and have a warm and safe weekend.  

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