Missoulian, August 7, 2015
For nearly three years, individuals and organizations across Montana have been working hard to expand Medicaid and increase access to affordable health care for the lowest-income Montanans. Even though we lost a legislative battle in 2013, we kept fighting because we knew we could not give up. There are too many people in our state who need help. In Montana, we find solutions to problems. And for a problem of this size, doing nothing was not an option.
We are so proud of our state and our legislators for passing the Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership (HELP) Act. It was a huge accomplishment and one that brings us a tremendous amount of pride. In fact, Montana is the only state to expand Medicaid coverage through the legislative process in nearly two years. However, even though the bill passed, we have more to do, and we need your help.
A few weeks ago, Montana released its draft plan to expand health care coverage under the HELP Act. Because Montana passed a law that includes provisions outside of traditional Medicaid, our state must submit a plan (called a Section 1115 Waiver) to the federal Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
As part of this process, Montanans – like you – have 60 days to comment and tell the state and CMS how important this is. This is an opportunity for all of us to show support for expanding coverage to Montanans who have been waiting for years and who desperately need this access to health care. People like those brave individuals who came to the Capitol to tell their stories. Those who grow sicker every day without affordable health care to keep them alive.
More than 10,000 of you made calls and emails to your legislators in support of expansion during the session, and we need your help one more time. Individuals and organizations can comment in writing or by email at any point directly to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services until Sept. 7. There will also be two public forums where individuals can attend and share their comments. The forums will be on Aug. 18 in Billings and Aug. 20 in Helena and a Tribal consultation on Aug. 19 in Helena.
We all need to get on the record urging CMS to quickly approve this waiver so Montana can begin enrolling people and getting them the essential health care they deserve. We spent years coming up with a solution that works for Montana, now it’s time for CMS to give us the green light so we can help the people of our state. Time is of the essence. Our state, our hospitals and 70,000 Montanans, including 20,000 Native Americans with great health disparities, are still waiting. The sooner CMS approves Montana’s waiver, the sooner we can get our friends and neighbors health care and end this wait.
This opinion was submitted by Claudia Clifford with AARP Montana, Montana Budget and Policy Center, Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Women Vote, SEIU 775, MHA…An Association of Montana Health Care Providers, Montana Primary Care Association, and Western Native Voice.