By Dick Brown/for MissoulaCurrent
From food recalls to Zika, health care issues were among the most popular online searches in 2016. Montanans increased their knowledge of antibiotic resistant “superbugs,” contributed to the social media firestorm following a spike in the cost of Epi-Pens, and advanced the global effort to erase the stigma of mental illness and improve access to suicide prevention and addiction services.
Montanans care about their health, and the health of their communities. The Montana Hospital Association (MHA) continues to advance that attribute with its commitment to ensuring every Montanan has access to health care and health care coverage in the New Year.
The Montana Legislature and Congress have the privilege of adopting public policy solutions that have a direct impact on improving the lives of their neighbors. As our elected leaders move forward with the debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is imperative that they take into consideration the impact of their actions on the millions of Americans who have benefitted from the monumental health law.
The ACA enabled 2.2 million new customers and 6.6 million returning customers to obtain coverage through the health insurance exchange during the 2016 open enrollment period. More than 52,000 Montanans selected a plan for coverage starting Jan. 1, 2017. In addition, more than 60,000 Montanans have obtained coverage through Medicaid. This coverage expansion has contributed to a drop in the uninsured rate in our state from about 20 percent in 2012 (one of the highest in the nation) to 7.4 percent in 2016.
The impact of the coverage expansion on individual lives is undeniable. Newly insured Montanans now have improved access to primary care providers. Many are benefitting from preventive health measures and are addressing previously unmet medical needs, including chronic conditions that cripple their ability to work.
Progress made in our communities demonstrates that health coverage is key to ensuring Montanans have access to the care they need. MHA believes healthier communities result in a more viable economy, a more efficient and effective health care delivery system and, over time, will lead to a long-term slowdown in health care spending growth.
If Congress decides to reconsider the ACA and move forward with strategies to eliminate health coverage gains or health care access – rural and frontier America may lose more than its local safety-net services.
Our communities already face challenges brought on by an aging population, a higher percentage of low-income residents, and persistent shortages of physicians and other health care professionals. Recent history has shown that a lack of health coverage for rural residents and support for rural health care providers can exacerbate these threats and lead to a loss in jobs, and eventually, to boards on the windows of local businesses and homes.
It is imperative that the Montana Legislature and Congress ensure the number of Montanans covered by some insurance plan does not diminish under efforts to repeal and/or replace the ACA.
MHA’s members are community-driven organizations whose mission is to serve the health care needs of their friends and neighbors. We ask our elected leaders to ensure we can continue to fulfill our mission to make Montana a “Top 10 Healthy State” that provides viable opportunities for current and future generations.
Dick Brown is president and CEO of the Montana Hospital Association.