Lessons Learned at National Conference

This week, most of the Montana Budget and Policy Center staff traveled to attend a national conference with groups like ours across the country. Since we like to consider ourselves data geeks and policy wonks, we were thrilled to attend panel discussions on tax policy, state and federal budgets, and data analysis. They were thrilling – trust us.

However, it was the breakout sessions on education, health care, and low-income policies that will really influence our work as we head into the 2015 Legislature.

For the past three years, MBPC has dedicated an incredible amount of time and effort on Medicaid expansion. At this conference we were able to talk to many of the states that passed Medicaid expansion. These states are an assortment of red, blue, and purple and we were happy to learn from their success. We heard about the coalitions they built – hospitals, businesses, law enforcement, advocates, unions, and others. We received samples of some of the great data they produced to help make the case about how Medicaid expansion actually SAVES states money.

Unfortunately there are 23 states that have yet to expand Medicaid like Montana. It was helpful to talk to analysts and advocates from those states to figure out what strategies made progress and what did not seem to be persuasive. One great piece of data we learned from Virginia was some of the cost savings states that have expanded Medicaid.

The Virginia report said “Kentucky enrolled 267,000 people who were previously ineligible for coverage and, as a result, reduced state spending on a variety of health care programs by $80 million in the current budget year and $87 million in the next budget year. Kentucky has been able to use federal funding rather than state dollars for community mental health programs, local health departments, limited medical benefit programs, hospital treatment for prison inmates, and health insurance for youth transitioning out of foster care. For example, the state no longer has to pick up 30 percent of the cost for 23,500 people who were previously in a public health insurance program, since those men and women are part of the group now covered with all federal dollars.”

We walked away armed with ideas for fresh messaging, additional partners, new data, and innovative strategies to pass Medicaid expansion. We are reenergized and ready to continue to fight to get up to 70,000 of our friends and neighbors the health care they need and deserve.

If you would like to get involved in the efforts to pass Medicaid expansion – now called the Healthy Montana Plan – consider joining us for our 2nd Legislative Summit. It is free to attend and will be held at the Gateway Center in Helena on December 9. You will join advocates, Legislators, policy experts and citizens from around the state. Register today!

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