Governor Steve Bullock and Rep. Chuck Hunter (Helena) this afternoon announced details of the Access Health Montana legislation, saying the program would create thousands of jobs, while dramatically improving the health of Montana citizens and the state's economy.
"Today, too many hardworking Montanans -- young and old and everywhere in between -- are just one medical crisis away from bankruptcy," Bullock said. "Through Access Health Montana, we can provide access to health care to 70,000 more Montanans, create 5,000 new jobs next year, and take some long-overdue steps to improve the quality of care we provide and contain costs."
Access Health Montana expands access to care for tens of thousands of Montanans by using federal funds to expand our state's Medicaid program to individuals and families living below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Eight Republican governors from across the country have already announced their intent to take advantage of Medicaid expansion.
Bullock also noted that the bill contains a termination provision or "circuit breaker," so that as Montana partners with the federal government in expanding access to care, the state is not left funding the entire expansion should the federal government later decide not to fund its share.
The Access Health Montana bill, sponsored by Rep. Hunter, is the result of extensive discussions over past months with legislators from both political parties, as well as Montana's business and medical communities, and health care advocates.
"Many of my colleagues arrived in Helena eight weeks ago, saying they were looking for the opportunity to create jobs. This is that opportunity," Rep. Hunter said. "But more than anything, we'll ensure that every Montanan -- regardless of how little money they have or where they live -- can see a doctor, and not just when they're deathly sick."
To increase the number of medical professionals who practice in Montana, Access Health Montana seeks $200,000 in state funding to expand the medical residency program so that more physicians can complete their residency requirements in Montana. Since doctors tend to stay and serve in the places they train, this is one way to address the shortage of physicians in the state. Montana now has residency programs in Billings and Missoula.
"This is a win-win. We can help more Montanans who desperately need health care, create thousands of new jobs, and encourage more primary care physicians to practice here in Montana," Bullock concluded.
The Access Health Montana program also seeks $908,174 to expand the WWAMI program -- Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho training program -- by 10 slots, a 25 percent increase in the number of seats for Montana medical students to attend their first year of medical school in Montana, and then complete the following years in Washington. This program has been extremely successful in encouraging doctors to come back to our cities, towns and rural areas to practice, but there hasn't been an increase in the number of positions open to Montana students through WWAMI in over two decades.
The Access Health Montana legislation proposes the implementation of a Patient Centered Medical Home program. This approach centers on making real improvements in the patient's health, not on what tests can be billed for. It requires health care professionals to coordinate their efforts to provide comprehensive primary care, including prevention and disease management services. By focusing on coordinating care and improving health, rather than simply treating illness, Montana will be better able to control the ever rising costs of health care.
Rep. Hunter said that the program will stabilize the cost of health care, in part because those with insurance are more likely to visit a doctor instead of a high-cost hospital emergency room, which shifts the cost to every Montanan. Through additional reforms, like instituting patient centered medical homes and improved preventative care, the legislation aims to lead to better care and lower costs.
In addition, the Access Health Montana bill also:
 increases provider rates by 2 percent in each of the next two years.
 creates a Patient Centered Medical Home Program advisory committee, comprised of seven members.
 creates a health trust account to be used by the legislature to improve the delivery of and access to health care. The health trust would be funded by any money that comes to the state when a nonprofit health care entity converts to a for-profit company.