Just over 40 percent of the patients who get care at Teton Medical Center in Choteau are uninsured and can’t pay their medical bills. That’s the message the hospital’s CEO gave to Governor Steve Bullock Thursday afternoon.
Teton Medical Center is one of the state’s Critical Access Hospitals. It has ten hospital beds, just over three dozen nursing home beds, and an emergency room.
Louie King is the center’s CEO. He told Governor Bullock the medical center provides good jobs and brings in $15 million a year to Teton County.
"Our facility, although small around 75 employees saves lives," said King. "We’re there for that golden hour after a heart attack, a stroke, major trauma or car wreck. We stabilize the patient and they’re transported to the appropriate follow-up care."
But King says Teton Medical Center is struggling financially. Last year it provided $265,000 in uncompensated care for patients.
"A lot of them are hard-working single parents, single moms," said King, "and their kids can get on Medicaid but they can’t, they’re between. They’re caught right there in the middle. And they’re the ones that are delaying treatment and finally coming into the ER when things blow up on them."
King says that’s why expanding Medicaid is crucial for Critical Care Hospitals like Teton Medical. He says currently the facility is in talks with Benefis Health System about a possible sale.
So King was asked would these talks be going on if the amount of uncompensated care weren’t so high. He says the reality is its is getting harder to be an independent rural hospital and mergers are happening across the state, but the burden of providing medical care for the uninsured is an issue.
"If we were making $1 million a year would we be in talks with Benefis? Maybe not today but we would be a couple of years down the road."
"But if you were receiving almost $300,000 of uncompensated care?" askedd Gov. Bullock.
"It would help," said King.
Representative Christy Clark left the Capitol for home to attend this tour and community meeting.
"Stay in touch with me," said Clark. "I have absolutely committed to finding a solution. As far as I’m concerned our failure of the last session was that we did not find a solution and I’m not willing to come back after this session and say, sorry we tried and couldn’t come up with anything."
She reminds the group, however, Medicaid expansion is an issue of dispute within the Republican party.
"As a Republican I don’t like federal programs," said Clark. "I don’t like increasing federal programs but I don’t like the reality of living in a community that doesn’t have a hospital."
While Republicans have the majority in both the House and Senate, Clark is part of a sub-group known by the moniker “Responsible Republicans.” Instead of voting strictly party line, in past sessions they’ve worked with their colleagues across the aisle.
Clark says they are absolutely committed to finding a solution even though the pressure in and out of the party is against Medicaid Expansion as part of ObamaCare. Clark also says that pressure is even being applied at home in Choteau.
"There will be people out there contacting you," said Clark. "Americans for Prosperity will be telling you how I should vote but I want you to tell me how we should solve this. I don’t want Americans for Prosperity a dark money group from Kansas telling me that you need to give me a petition."
As for Governor Bullock, he says his Healthy Montana Plan was put forth to start the talking.
"I’ve said to legislators across the board that I am more than willing to meet you half way and have discussions as long as we take the steps we need to ensure our tax dollars are not going to states like North Dakota, Arizona, New Jersey or Ohio."
Bullock agrees with Clark that Montana can’t wait another two years for some solution. He says the viability of communities, like Choteau, is at stake.