Montana Public Radio

Montana Providers Awarded $500,000 For Health Insurance Counseling

Aug 24, 2020
Originally published on August 23, 2020 9:30 pm

Montana has awarded more than $540,000 in grants to health care providers so they can help people find affordable insurance plans.

Hospitals, clinics and tribal nations will use the money to train or hire counselors through June who can guide Montanans through the health care insurance application process, including on the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

Riverstone Health CEO John Felton said during a news conference Friday that many of the Billings organization’s patients have lost their jobs and health insurance during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Yellowstone County health officer said the grants will benefit people bewildered by the idea of shopping for a new plan.

“The return on that investment will be healthier Montanans able to get the health care they need, when they need it,” Felton said.

Nineteen facilities around Montana each received $30,000 grants through the Safeguard Access to Care program, which is paid for by federal Coronavirus Relief Funds.

Felton said RiverStone Health already offers health insurance counseling, which more than 600 Montanans took advantage of last year. He said grant funding will boost those efforts.

“Allowing us to augment training and increase temporary staffing to ensure the availability of one-to-one counseling for marketplace insurance enrollment,” he said.

Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney said getting Montanans insured helps them receive care for chronic conditions and allows them to access screenings, immunizations and counseling.

“Finding and enrolling these Montanans is particularly important in rural and underserved communities that require more capacity to reach,” Cooney said.

Cooney said the grants help fill an outreach gap left by the federal government, which cut Affordable Care Act advertising by 90 percent in 2017.

Montana has an additional $152,000 available for another round of Safeguard Access to Care grants. The deadline to apply was extended to Sept. 4.

Open enrollment for individual health insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace runs Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. Individuals who lost coverage through an employer can apply within 60 days of losing coverage and may be eligible for price breaks.

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