Guest opinion: U.S. House health reform puts Montanans at risk

Billings Gazette – May 7, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed a measure to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a bill that will increase health care costs for hundreds of thousands of Montanans and put coverage at risk for many across the state.

After failing to reach the votes needed to pass legislation earlier this year, politicians in D.C. changed the bill. Unfortunately, they did not fix the provisions that would result in over 20 million Americans losing coverage by 2026 and many more facing steep increases in out-of-pocket costs for insurance. Instead, House GOP leaders made the bill even worse, by eliminating protections for Americans who have pre-existing conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even pregnancy.

The bill effectively ends Montana’s bipartisan Medicaid expansion program, which extended coverage to over 77,000 Montanans who would otherwise be uninsured and saved the state over $22 million in the first year. Throughout the 2015 session, we heard from Montanans across the state who faced serious health conditions but were unable to access coverage. Montana’s Medicaid expansion is saving lives, but now that health insurance could be ripped away from individuals who desperately need coverage.

Instead of helping make insurance more affordable, this bill actually makes it more expensive, by scaling back tax credits and subsidies provided to individuals who are accessing coverage through the health insurance marketplace. This will have a disproportionate impact on older Montanans, as well as those at lower incomes. Studies show that Montanans who are buying insurance from the marketplace could see out-of-pocket costs (such as premiums, deductibles, and copays) increase by an average of $4,606.

One of the most damaging and long-lasting changes would be to the overall Medicaid program. The House bill is proposing deep cuts in federal Medicaid dollars. States, particularly rural states like Montana, will be forced to make devastating decisions, as Congress attempts to cut over $800 billion in federal Medicaid dollars. Today, one in four Montanans (over 240,000 individuals) receive coverage through Medicaid. Children, seniors, low-income pregnant women, and people with disabilities all rely upon Medicaid for affordable coverage. If this bill becomes law, tens of thousands of Montanans could face loss in coverage.

The House GOP amended the bill to also eliminate some of the most popular provisions of the ACA, including protections for individuals who have pre-existing conditions. States would receive almost automatic approval to waive the requirement that prohibits insurers from charging people higher premiums for coverage based on their health condition. Those with pre-existing conditions would face skyrocketing costs for insurance. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, over 400,000 Montanans had a pre-existing condition in 2009, the most recent year of information.

If insurers were to charge people the full expected cost of their condition, an individual with metastatic cancer could face premiums exceeding $100,000, according to one analysis by the Center for American Progress. Having a baby, without any complications, could run more than $15,000 more in premiums per year. Montanans facing a pre-existing condition would almost certainly run the risk of losing coverage, as a result of outrageous premium costs.

Congress can and should consider ways to lower health care costs and continue to expand access to coverage. This bill is not it. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is time for each of us to tell Congress to do their job and protect the health care that Montanans need and deserve. The health care coverage of hundreds of thousands of Montanans hangs in the balance.

Heather O’Loughlin is co-director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center in Helena.

Policy Basics: Introduction to Who Pays Montana’s Taxes

Policy Basics is a series of background reports on issues related to the Montana budget and Montana taxes. The purpose of the Policy Basics series is to provide the public, advocates, and policy makers the tools they need to effectively engage in important fiscal policy debates that help shape the health and safety of our communities.

For generations, our tax dollars have served as shared investments in the programs and services that make our state a great place to live, work, and play. Tax dollars enable Montanans to work together for those things, which we cannot achieve alone – a quality education for our children, the development and maintenance of infrastructure, public safety through police and fire protection, and clean air and water. These shared investments pave the way to a stronger economy where every Montanan can thrive.

Read this report and see how Montana raises tax dollars and who shares in the costs of our public investments.

Position Announcement: Outreach and Communications Coordinator

Organizational and Position Background

The Montana Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization with the mission to advance responsible tax, budget, and economic policies through credible research and analysis in order to promote opportunity and fairness for all Montanans.

MBPC is seeking an Outreach and Communications Coordinator to organize efforts regarding a number of policy priorities including advocating for a fair tax structure and a responsible state budget that provides adequate revenue to invest in our communities and families. Reporting to the Co-Director of Public Affairs, this position will work collaboratively with the MBPC staff and coalition partners to develop and implement communication and outreach strategies to broaden the impact of MBPC’s initiatives.

Duties and Responsibilities

  • Provide support for a statewide coalition focused on tax fairness and ensuring adequate revenue for a strong state budget
  • Assist in drafting of advocacy, educational, outreach, and lobbying materials
  • Support activities related to the legislative session, including, but not limited to: research and monitoring bills and committees, community education, rallies, and action alerts
  • Supporting the Co-Director in the planning and execution of organizational communications and outreach strategies
  • Assist with the organization’s web presence, including regular email communication, website, social media platforms, in a manner consistent with MBPC’s messaging
  • Synthesize technical information into relatable, simplified materials (e.g. talking points, action alerts, and policy updates)
  • Educate coalition participants and potential allies through a variety of communication channels to convey key information about the state’s budget, the importance of raising revenues fairly, and the coalition’s action agenda.
  • Initiate, build relationships, and recruit new coalition members from with members of the low-income, faith-based, business, and other relevant communities.

Required Experience and Education

  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills, including experience in public speaking and development of outreach materials
  • Sense of humor
  • Strong ability to work independently as well as in a collaborative environment
  • Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in communications, public policy, or a related field (advanced degree preferred)
  • Capacity to build and maintain relationships with a wide range of groups and individuals
  • Ability to prioritize, multi-task, and work at a high capacity in order to meet deadlines
  • Strong abilities in Microsoft Office Suite, outreach database systems, and Internet research tools
  • Experience in the state legislative process is preferred
  • Knowledge of data analysis or research capabilities is preferred
  • Knowledge of graphic design and web page tools (Illustrator, InDesign, WordPress, or other programs) is preferred

Position Details

The ideal candidate will work full time and be based in Helena. However, a truly outstanding candidate who is based elsewhere in Montana will be considered.

Montana Budget and Policy Center provides competitive salary and benefit packages within the non-profit sector, including health, retirement, and leave benefits. Applicants are encouraged to provide expected salary range.

To Apply:

To apply, submit a cover letter and resume by email (preferred) or mail to:

tjensen@montanabudget.org

-or-

Montana Budget and Policy Center

101 N. Last Chance Gulch, #220

Helena, MT 59601

The position is open until filled. Initial application review will include all applications received by August 10.

MBPC is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, religious or political affiliation, disability, and any other classification considered discriminatory under applicable law.

Medicaid Expansion: Effective Strategies to Expanding Access to Coverage

On November 3, 2015, the state of Montana began enrolling individuals in newly expanded Medicaid, called the HELP (Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership) Plan. In conjunction with the open enrollment period for health insurance on the Marketplace, Montana successfully enrolled thousands into Montana’s Medicaid expansion plan. However, Medicaid enrollment is open year-round, and the state should consider additional steps to reach newly eligible Montanans and continue the successful efforts to enroll individuals in affordable health care coverage.

This report examines early enrollment levels in Montana, lessons learned from outreach efforts in other states, and health care coverage of American Indians.

Read the full report Medicaid Expansion Outreach and Enrollment: Effective Strategies to Expanding Access to Coverage.

 

Strengthening Families, Strengthening Our Economy: The Economic Benefits of Pre-Kindergarten

Adult Helping Young Children at Montessori/Pre-SchoolInvesting now in kids and families will strengthen Montana’s children and families, our communities, and the state’s economy. Quality, public pre-K helps parents work, reduces education costs, increases future earnings of participants, and reduces the state’s spending on corrections.

Montana is currently one of only eight states not investing in its youngest learners. A high quality, public pre-K program will make us more competitive among neighboring states, benefit taxpayers, and enhance economic vitality.

>>> Read MBPC’s full report here.

Dr. Jon Griffin’s Story: A Physician’s Perspective

Earlier this month, we shared with you Michele’s story, the story of a woman caught in the coverage gap. If you haven’t had a chance to listen to her story, please do. Medicaid expansion is about more than the numbers – it affects real people.

This week, we want to share with you a Montana physician’s perspective on how Medicaid expansion would benefit his patients, his business, and the health of our state and our communities. 

I take care of people every day. That’s my business. The fact that we’re going to turn our backs on these 70,000 Montanas – it doesn’t make a lot of sense. That’s not how we do things in Montana.

Please take a moment to watch and share this important video. 

Michele’s Story: A Woman Caught in the Coverage Gap

Medicaid expansion would provide up to 70,000 Montanans with affordable health care coverage. Watch this new video from MBPC to listen to Michele’s story and hear how expanding Medicaid would benefit her.

Video: Montana Can’t Wait for Medicaid Expansion

Be sure to watch this new video from the Partnership for Montana’s Future, explaining how Medicaid Expansion would benefit Montana.