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Opinion: Our State Legislature needs to pass Healthy Montana Plan

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Healthy Montana plan 1I rarely, if ever, use this space to talk about politics.

Mostly because I figure there are other people who have been doing it longer, and much better than I ever could. When I set out to create Big Sky State Buzz, my main focus was, and continues to be, to put a spotlight on art and entertainment, my two biggest passions.

However, today we need to have a talk about health care.

Specifically those who cannot access it, and what’s being done to solve this major problem in our state.

A recent survey, which you can read here for yourself, found that nearly one in five Montanans were without healthcare before the ACA, or the Affordable Care Act, was put into effect. Now, that number is around 17.6 percent.

Numbers don’t do this issue justice, however. Because really, what does 17 percent of anything look like?

Think of it this way.

Visualize six of your closest friends and family. Your mom, your grandma, your best friends, whoever means the most to you.

Now, imagine if you will that all of those people, God forbid, became gravely ill. Nobody wants that to happen, but life being what it is, the possibility is all too real.

In a hypothetical situation, if all six of those people got sick at the same time, five of them could afford to get the medical treatment they need, while one of them would not.

One of them would either need to pay an extraordinary amount of money to stay alive, or go without and risk getting sicker, or, in the worst case scenario, die due to the inability to get care.

In total 70,000 Montanans are without coverage that need it. That’s not a small number by any means. Now, if you had to choose which of your loved ones was to be a part of that 70,000, which one would you choose?

That’s the reality we’re facing.

Now you might be thinking, jeez, this is a major problem, OK, what’s being done about it? Secondly, you might wonder, why is this mired in politics?

It’s political because in this current legislative session happening right now in Helena, there are people who are dead-set on making sure that these odds don’t improve.

The Koch brothers have invested in this fight as well.

Their lobbying group, Americans for Prosperity, has been travelling across Montana trying to get people, and undecided legislators, to sign a pledge to ensure that someone who makes $15,000 or less cannot be given the  opportunity to afford health insurance or medical care.

You read that right. I wish I were making this up, but that’s the force this plan to help Montanans in need faces, sadly. The Americans for Prosperity has listed this as their top priority for Montana. It’s unknown how many legislators have already signed said pledge, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a large number of names on that list.

On the flip side of the coin, many folks in Helena support expanding Medicaid, too.

Earlier this session Montana governor Steve Bullock introduced a plan to close the Medicaid gap in what he named the Healthy Montana Plan.

His plan would extend health care coverage to uninsured Montanans by accepting federal funds and, ” and competitively contract with an insurer to provide healthcare through a private provider network at negotiated rates,” according to the plan’s press release.

It continues, saying, “Any Montanan making 138 percent or less of the federal poverty level would qualify to receive health care coverage under the Healthy Montana Plan. Federal funding would be available to pay 100 percent of the cost of the plan for the first three years, meaning Montana taxpayer dollars would be used to provide coverage to Montanans, rather than providing care in other states.”

The bad news, however, is that this bill, titled HB249, is not expected to escape the House Health and Human Services Committee because the six Republicans sitting on that committee, chaired by Rep. Art Wittich, hold the majority over the four Democrats.

So far no committee hearing has been announced, but the second it gets announced, a large group of concerned Montanans will be there in Helena to make their presence felt.

The Republicans have announced their counter plan, titled the “Big Sky Plan,” which unfortunately does not accept any federal funds and does not cover people not working or people who aren’t either suffering a mental or physical illness, don’t have children, or aren’t who they deem, “worthy” of support. This plan has several problems attached with it, but if there’s a compromise to be had, this could be a good start. We shall see.

What’s especially bothersome is that this has gotten to be a political fight at all.

The health of our fellow neighbors should not be a game. We should not deny basic human rights to people who need it in our state based on ideology. Yet, that’s what’s happening in Helena.

Even if you don’t care about anything else that’s going on in the capitol, I ask you to pay attention to this. Our health and prosperity as a state depends on it.

If you haven’t had the chance, check out this video in which a woman from Bozeman named Michele Evans from Bozeman talks about how her life has been negatively affected by not having health insurance. Her voice is one of many who all have similar stories.

THen, if you’re wondering WHY Americans for Prosperity opposes this plan, on their own website the only reason they call it “ridiculous” is because it’s associated with Obamacare and that it goes against “responsible spending.”

That’s it.

To that I’d say they’ve missed the memo on how the Healthy Montana plan would, “create 12,000 good-paying new jobs annually and give $1.4 billion boost to our economy.”

Or, how about the fact that Montana is, “losing as much as $1.96 million of federal funds every day.”

$1.96 million PER DAY! Read more about that aspect of this plan here.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention that for the first three years, the plan woudl be “funded 100 percent by the federal government. After that, Montana will contribute up to 10 percent.”

10 percent. No more, no less. There’s also a safeguard in place that states if the federal government changes it’s tune, which can happen, Montana will not be on the hook to pay any more than what’s already been established at the start of the plan.

Again, let me state that I don’t get political ever on this site, nor do I plan on doing it again anytime soon. I’m just concerned that too many people either have the facts twisted, don’t believe in helping people who need it, or simply oppose this idea because it came from the president.

All of these reasons to oppose this idea are bunk.

So, finally, what can you do to help?

Quite a bit, actually.

One of the first steps you can do is to reach out to your legislator, or the Health and Human Services committee in Helena. You can do that by clicking here. Some of the key people to reach out to include Rep. Art Wittich, Rep. Nancy Ballance, or Sen. Fred Thomas.

If you’re free on Monday, Feb. 16, a busload of folks are heading to Helena to talk with legislators in person about a variety of topics, one of which is the Healthy Montana plan.

You can find more information about that here.

Finally you can write to your local newspaper’s editorial editor. Here’s some tips on how to write into Great Falls, Helena, Missoula, Bozeman, Billings and Butte.

Your legislators want to hear your voice. Be open, be bold, be honest about whatever you want to say. But, don’t be afraid to speak up.

Full disclosure, I am one of the 70,000 people without health care today. As a Type 1 Diabetic, I’m reminded on a daily basis how important it is for me to have coverage. I’m anxiously awaiting a decision to be made on this plan because my life depends on it.

Let’s get this done Montana before it’s too late.

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