Hearing Wednesday: Bill creates medical program to care for uninsured Montanans

Roger Webb, R-Billings

By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – Montana lawmakers will consider a bill Wednesday that would create a volunteer health service program to provide free health care services to uninsured and underinsured Montanans.

Senate Bill 83 would allow volunteer health-care providers to receive education credits through the program and protect them from lawsuits stemming from treatment.

Sen. Roger Webb, R-Billings, is the sponsor of the bill and said the idea came from an organization in Florida called Volunteer Health Services.

He said that this service could potentially help 15,000 individuals in the state.

“Who knows where it will lead? I mean, in Florida it was millions and millions of visits and millions of dollars, we could do the same here,” Webb said.

The Montana Board of Dentistry voted unanimously to oppose the bill at a January 19 meeting. Since the board is under the Department of Labor and Industry, that vote went to the governor who could approve or deny the testimony at the bill’s hearing.

“It’s redundant and, if anything, it authorizes boards like this to recognize continuing education credits,” Executive Officer of the board Dennis Clark said at the meeting last month.

Clark asked the community if the board needs this legislation to recognize the credits that would be received outside the classroom.

Sen. Webb said he understands that the services described in his bill could fall under the Good Samaritan law, but wanted to make it explicit that the volunteers are people helping people out.

“And to get these folks to participate, the immunity clause was put in there, and that’s what it’s for. Even if it exists today it’s nothing but a reminder (that) it’s in the bill – so it becomes a vital part of the bill,” Webb said.  

As of a February 6 meeting, the board had not got a response from the governor in time for the House Human Services Committee hearing of the bill.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.