Commentary - September 27th, 2013
11:36 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Medicaid Expansion in Montana

Earlier this year, Montana had the opportunity to expand our Medicaid program to provide affordable, quality health care to 70,000 low-income Montanans. 

For Rebecca, expanding Medicaid would mean getting treatment for her chronic condition – treatment she’s currently unable to get because she makes $80 a month over the current Medicaid eligibility limit.  For Jennifer, it means getting care for herself and her three kids in her small hometown, instead of driving 90 miles round-trip to access a sliding scale clinic.  For Brenda, expanding Medicaid means finally getting the surgery she needs for a neck injury she got in a car accident three years ago.

Expanding Medicaid would provide an economic boost, creating jobs and bringing federal tax dollars back into the state.  Expanding Medicaid would provide health care to 20,000 American Indians and 8,000 uninsured veterans.  It would stop the closure of rural hospitals and clinics.

So it seems like a no-brainer, right?  We should jump on this opportunity to make sure our family, neighbors, and community members can get access to health care.  Sadly, that’s not how this story goes.

Despite significant statewide support for expansion, conservative out-of-touch leaders in our state legislature blocked efforts to pass a bill expanding Medicaid in Montana.  They did so by refusing to allow the state house to vote on the bill.   Throughout the session, reasonable legislators on both sides of the aisle came together to find a compromise.  We came very, very close to getting this done.

In Montana, working together is a fact of life.  We all know each other and work together well.  But in all my years of organizing, I’ve never seen a coalition as broad, diverse, and strong as the coalition that came together around Medicaid expansion.  Health care providers, business owners, county commissioners, moms and dads, seniors, hospital administrators, farmers and ranchers, labor unions, low-income families – the list goes on.  These folks made phone calls, wrote letters, drove hundreds of miles to the Capitol to testify (in snowy February no less!), talked to the press, and shared personal stories.  It is nothing more than a shameful failure that conservative legislators ignored their constituents and community members and instead played politics with people’s health.

Fortunately, the story’s not over – and over the summer, the issue has only become more urgent.  From hospitals closing their doors in states that failed to expand Medicaid, to parents being forced to rely on extraordinary acts of charity in order to get back to work, we have seen growing evidence that Montana cannot afford to wait.  We simply must pursue a special session this fall.  We believe that we can overcome the opposition of conservative leadership who blocked a bi-partisan compromise.  We are committed to ensuring that thousands of Montanans get access to the care they need and earlier this summer we began the process to take Medicaid expansion to the ballot in 2014. We are still working on that option, but must first try to get this done in a special session so that 70,000 Montanans can get access to care sooner and Montana doesn't turn away millions in federal funds to expand Medicaid.

Governor Bullock has been a passionate supporter of this issue, and has been clear that every option to expand Medicaid is on the table.  It will take commitment from legislators on both sides of aisle to work with Governor Bullock to get this done.

Consider calling Governor Bullock and contacting your legislator to let them know they have your support for working together to expand Medicaid this fall..

We believe the stakes are simply too high to quit.  We believe it is our responsibility as a state and as a nation to take care of our neighbors and community members, especially those most vulnerable and those going without.  Access to health care is not a privilege or meant only for those that can afford it.  We have the means, the opportunity, and the core values to provide health care to thousands of Montanans.  Let’s do it.

I’m Sarah Howell with Montana Women Vote, thanks for listening and have a terrific weekend.