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Study Finds Thousands Of Montanans Would Lose Coverage If Health Care Bill Passes

Number Of Unisured Montanans Drops Dramatically In 2016
Number Of Unisured Montanans Drops Dramatically In 2016

More than 70,000 Montanans would lose health coverage under the health care bill being considered by Congress, and the state would lose $4.8 billion in federal funding. That’s according to a new study by the non-partisan Montana Healthcare Foundation. Aaron Wernham is its CEO.

"The Montana Healthcare Foundation’s reason to be is improve the health and well being of Montanans, and the American Health Care Act is a very significant piece of federal legislation that could have impacts on Montana," says Wernham. "We did the study to understand better just exactly what it might look like here, particularly the bill’s implications for Medicaid."

Medicaid currently covers about 217,000 Montanans, about 45 percent of whom are children. The jointly-funded federal and state program has traditionally covered children, pregnant women, and disabled and elderly people.

Last year Montana expanded Medicaid, making available to any adult who makes less than about $16,000 a year. Nearly all of those adults would be dropped from Medicaid by 2026 under the healthcare bill before Congress. The bill also includes a formula to reduce the amount of overall Medicaid funding that states get from the federal government.

Wernham says that’s a lot of money in Montana.

"This is roughly a third of the federal funding that Montana receives, so when you really look at how that translates into the state budget, the entire state budget takes a big hit," says Wernham. "And although it’s very hard to predict how the legislature and a future governor would handle those changes, we’d be dealing with less money, and that would require us to look, I think probably , beyond just the healthcare budget to figure out how to make up the deficit."

In a phone conference with reporters today, Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester called the House bill “terrible” and says he’s very concerned about how it might be modified by the Senate.

"The problem is that 13 Republican Senators are writing it," says Tester. "They aren’t letting anyone else in the room. They aren’t holding hearings, and they aren’t letting me or any of the American people see it. In Montana that’s not how we do things."

Tester says he hopes there will be enough time to debate the Senate bill, but he thinks the Republican majority will try to bring it to a vote as quickly as possible.

"It needs to go to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, so that there can be a hearing on that, and we can get people to come in and testify as to what’s good and what’s bad about this potential proposal," says Tester.

We asked Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines for an interview on the health bill, but his spokesperson declined. Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte has also declined all of Montana Public Radio’s interview requests since winning the seat May 25th.

Another study released last week says that Medicaid is more important in rural states like Montana, which, compared to the country as a whole, have lower household incomes, lower rates of workforce participation and higher rates of disability.

Joan Alker with the Georgetown Center on Children and Families, says that Medicaid enrollment in Montana has grown significantly since 2008.

"Montana actually ranks number 8 among states in the percentage point drop in uninsured children, so the Medicaid program itself has been very important, and of growing importance for children in Montana," Alker says.

You can find the study from the Montana Health Care Foundation on their website.

The study from the Georgetown Center on Children and Families is available from the their website.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.