Rich Rasmussen

Rich Rasmussen

In rural areas across the state, critical access hospitals are constantly balancing their mission to offer high quality care to our neighbors with the ability to remain viable for generations to come. Led by voluntary board members from across their community, they understand that access to health care is a cornerstone of what makes our small towns work and thrive. In other words, in rural Montana — we’re all in it together.

When the 2019 Montana Legislature voted to reform and continue Medicaid expansion, it was a vote for the economic vitality of our state. Consider the direct impacts of the program in Ravalli County alone: 417 jobs created or sustained across multiple industries, $34 million in wages and close to $51 million in local economic impact.

There are other impacts to our economy, too. Medicaid expansion is shifting cost from more expensive and less effective treatment of health emergencies to preventive care that is more cost-effective and can help save lives before a medical emergency arises. It is benefiting our small businesses by creating a healthier workforce. It’s helping people address mental health and substance abuse issues, so they can be productive and show up on the job. In Ravalli County, nearly 60% of businesses have at least one employee enrolled in Medicaid expansion.

Despite the rhetoric, health care coverage through Medicaid expansion is not a handout or a bailout. The majority of folks enrolled in Medicaid expansion are working, and most are on the program for less than two years. It is serving as a temporary safety net for our neighbors trying — and succeeding — in improving their financial situation.

It also is a critical piece in solving the healthcare puzzle, which is why hospitals came to the table proposing a self-imposed tax to lessen the burden on Montana taxpayers.

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Ultimately, it was the Republican-led solution to expansion, HB 658, that became law. It was a rare piece of politics these days. Democrats joined with Republican leaders to pass a bipartisan, fiscally responsible and forward-thinking measure.

What if our lawmakers had done nothing? In Ravalli County, hundreds of jobs would have disappeared, the tax base would have shrunk, and 3,683 Ravalli County residents would have lost their health care coverage this past summer.

We should applaud the 89 Montana lawmakers — including Bitterroot Valley’s own Representatives, Nancy Ballance, David Bedey and Sharon Greef — for playing a crucial role in protecting local jobs, helping our rural critical access hospitals stay viable all while fueling $2 billion in economic activity in our state. These lawmakers put the people of their district over politics in Helena. Because of their bipartisan courage, our state is set to continue on a healthier and more economically prosperous direction.

Please join us in thanking Reps. Ballance, Bedey and Greef. You can access their contact information — as well as the data and facts cited here on Montana’s Medicaid program — by visiting www.MontanaMedicaidWorks.org.

Rich Rasmussen is President and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association, a nonprofit organization with more than 80 members providing the full spectrum of health care services.