In recent years, how we deliver and receive health care in Montana has been transformed. You may not see this if you don’t use a lot of medical care, but, it is happening every day in hospitals and doctors’ offices around our state. As a result, the quality of the medical care we receive, the safety of the patients we serve and the value of the health care dollars we spend are all much improved.
One major reason for this was legislative action in 2015. Until then, far too many Montanans went to work every day with the knowledge that access to health insurance and a doctor or nurse practitioner was beyond their reach. As a result, they avoided regular check-ups and screenings, and were often left with no choice but to access care far too late, and where it is most expensive and most difficult to treat — hospital emergency rooms.
Montana’s lawmakers saw what was happening in their communities and delivered a bipartisan compromise to expand Medicaid coverage to these low-income, working families, friends and neighbors. As a result, Montana’s uninsured rate has dropped from a staggering 20 percent in 2013 to 7 percent in 2017, and many rural hospitals struggling under the weight of uncompensated care were thrown a lifeline.
Medicaid expansion also has had a direct impact on our state’s economy. Health care is the largest sector of our economy, providing well-paid jobs for thousands of highly skilled workers and ensuring that Main Street businesses thrive. The expansion of Medicaid coverage has resulted in an even stronger economy and more productive workforce.
In addition, high quality is a hallmark of health care in our state, and we are committed to maintaining the quality of care our communities count on. We are also working to redefine what it means to be healthy in Montana by partnering with our communities to tackle social, behavioral and environmental barriers to our well-being.
But the advancements we’re making continue to be threatened by external factors. Most recently, we have been plagued by uncertainty in Washington about the value of insurance coverage as well as the uncertainty at home about whether we can continue to afford providing health insurance to those most in need.
The state is experiencing a budget crisis. From a health care perspective, the proposed funding reductions would roll back the progress made through Medicaid expansion and adversely affect Montana’s kids, seniors and disabled. They also threaten health care providers’ abilities to meet the growing needs of their neighbors.
This time, Montana cannot cut its way to health. We’re calling on Gov. Bullock and the Montana Legislature to roll up their sleeves and figure out a way to responsibly increase revenues. Failure to do so will force painful reductions in health care programs that will threaten the health of our workforce and our communities.
Dick Brown is the president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association.