MISSOULA, MONTANA – Today, local and national health care advocates met at Partnership Health Center in Missoula to host a roundtable discussion highlighting the importance of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to Montanans.

The event was part of Protect Our Care’s national “Care Force One Tour”. The group is traveling 11,505 miles across the country, with 48 events in 23 states, to give community members, elected officials, and health care experts the opportunity to share personal stories about the ACA and how it has benefitted Montanans.

CEO of Partnership Health Center, Laurie Francis opened by emphasizing the importance of the ACA to Montana. “Partnership Health Center serves just over 16,000 people. The Affordable Care Act and allowance of pre-existing conditions have been critically important to patients at partnership our ability to add extra services. We’ve gone from 40% uninsured to 15% uninsured.”

Protect Our Care Montana steering committee member Amy Coseo is a cancer survivor and small business owner. Coseo emphasized how continued coverage under the ACA allows Montanans to focus on getting through treatment and healing instead of constantly worrying about hitting caps or going bankrupt. She spoke about her concerns recently shifting from what happens “‘if I lose coverage’ to  ‘when I lose coverage’.

The ACA also covers preventative services for Montanans – like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – which encourages patients to seek preventative care, making them healthier in the long-run and saves significant costs down the road.

Protect Our Care member and advocate, Laura Packard, shared a personal story of being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and receiving healthcare coverage through the ACA. “Like 1/5 of Americans with coverage under the ACA, I’m self-employed. Without the ACA, no insurance company would choose to give me a policy. We need to fight the sabotage and ensure future generations have access to comprehensive health care they deserve.”

Rep. Kim Dudik, HD 94, addressed the importance of the ACA for Montana’s Medicaid expansion and its impacts on Montana and in Missoula County. “The ACA is a federal policy, but it became a state policy issue when we voted to expand Medicaid. Because of Montana’s Medicaid, over 96,000 Montanans and 11,347 Missoula County residents were able to gain access to healthcare, including cancer screenings, vaccinations, wellness visits, and dental exams.”

Sen. Diane Sands, SD 49, emphasized the importance of Montana Medicaid’s support for rural hospitals. “I grew up in Eastern Montana. Many of these communities are built around and rely on hospitals for jobs and access to health care. It is absolutely essential that we continue to help people access care at and support our critical access hospitals. Montana’s Medicaid helps us do that.”

Hospitals in states who have expanded Medicaid are six times less likely to close than in states who haven’t expanded Medicaid. Since 2010, 83 rural hospitals have closed, with 90% of those closures happening in states that refused to expand Medicaid.

Lisa Davey and her son Logan are two Missoula residents who have a personal connection to the necessity of the Affordable Care Act. “The first day of my son’s life cost over $500,000 and the ACA made lifetime caps illegal,” said Davey. “His father and I can now find work without having to shop around to avoid hitting caps with specific insurers in Montana.” Ms. Davey also added that because of the ACA, her son will remain covered until he is 26, instead of being forced to find new or employer-based insurance at 19.

Underscoring the importance of continuing healthcare access under the ACA and Montana’s Medicaid, John Crawford shared his experience as a beneficiary of Medicaid expansion who has found better work and financial stability because of the program. He posed a question to those opposed to the efforts, “For the smallest investment you have increased the health and vitality for 100,000 Montanans. To those who oppose these things: What are we saying to those kids? To those businesses who want to move into the state? To our tribal communities? You are saying they are not valuable to Montana. With this small investment we can increase vitality and economic benefits for all Montanans and not just the people who benefit now.”

Before the ACA, many Montanans had never carried health insurance and had difficulty accessing care. Olivia Riutta, of Montana Primary Care Association, discussed efforts to assist Montanans in accessing healthcare for the first time. “There are about 45,000 Montanans who rely on the ACA. 87% receive financial assistance to pay their monthly premiums. There a lot of folks who are working hard in our communities to connect certified applications counselors to the Montanans, so the people need coverage have the information and support to get covered.”

Since 2013, navigator grants were given to non-profits to hire navigators to help people enroll in coverage through the exchange or through Montana’s Medicaid.Unfortunately, no navigator assistance funding was received in Montana this year.

Open enrollment for the ACA marketplaces in Montana begins on November 1, 2018. Members of the public can visit www.covermt.org, put in their zip code, and connect with community leaders who are certified to assist in accessing and navigating the health insurance marketplace.

Protect our Care Montana is an organization of Montana leaders focused on educating the public about the impacts and importance of the Affordable Care Act.

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  • It’s expected that 40 year old Montanans will face paying an extra $1,330 for marketplace coverage in 2019 if efforts to undermine the marketplace continue.
  • Montana expanded Medicaid under the ACA and the 96,000 Montanans who have gained coverage because of this program would find their care at risk if the law were repealed.
  • Junk insurance plans that charge money for skimpy coverage could return to Montana and 26,000 Montanans could lack comprehensive coverage in 2019 because they will either become uninsured or will be enrolled in junk plans that don’t provide key health benefits.
  • 49,000 Montanans who have obtained health insurance through the ACA marketplace could lose their coverage if the current lawsuit continues; and protections for 426,000 Montanans living with a pre-existing condition would be in jeopardy.