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Pondera Medical Center Board of Directors Approves Resolution Endorsing HELP Act

On December 20th, the Governing Board of Directors of Pondera Medical Center approved Resolution No. 84-122018-16. The resolution endorses the HELP Act and also supports repealing the sunset of the act, slated for June if legislative action is not taken this session.

The Resolution details how Montana and Pondera County have benefited from the 2015 Medicaid expansion, in summary: Numerous reports and studies authored by the University of Montana, including well-respected consulting firms, have independently demonstrated the 2015 HELP Act has significantly benefited over 96,000 Montanans, 800 of those in Pondera County. Hospitals across Montana have seen uninsured rates reduced over 150%. Pondera Medical Center has remained financially viable due to a 26% reduction in uncompensated care and 13% reduction in bad debt levels. Montana Medicaid enrollees are a significant percentage of PMC Clinic and Hospital patients. The loss of coverage through the HELP Act would in many cases cause irreparable harm to medical facilities and put at risk the financial viability of PMC and others.

As the largest employer in Pondera County with nearly 200 full-time, part-time and work when needed employees, we have additional interest in advocating for the 5,000 jobs the HELP Act has helped to create. Healthcare is the largest source of private sector income in Montana and represents 1 in 5 dollars earned. The economic effect on Pondera County and Montana would be irremediable.

The Act has been instrumental in providing preventative services at little or no cost to 86,995 adults and thereby improving the overall health of our rural communities.

This Resolution comes after Initiative-185 failed in Montana last November. I-185 would have removed the 2019 sunset provision and raised taxes on all tobacco products, amending the definition to include e-cigarettes and vaping products. I-185 would have allocated about $26 Million of the estimated $74 million a year in new tobacco tax revenue to fund continuation of Medicaid expansion in Montana. The initiative prompted the US tobacco industry to spend several million dollars, including $5 Million in the last 20 days before the election, to oppose the initiative. Discussing the Medicaid topic with legislatures and constituents, most generally support continuing expansion, and say the initiative failed because of the tax on tobacco and the muddying of the waters by the Tobacco industry, and not because of lack of support for Medicaid expansion.

Going forward, areas that will likely be address in the 90-day legislative session are incorporating limits of Medicaid eligibility that go beyond just an income qualification and an expectation that able-bodied individuals on Medicaid are on a pathway to self-reliance through work, training or community service.

Governor Steve Bullock has remained adamant that continuing Medicaid will be signed into law during his final term. Pondera Medical Center appreciates the Governor’s budget proposal designating Medicaid expansion as a top priority. Montana has seen great success with Medicaid and no rural hospitals have closed since the expansion.

The 66th Session of the Montana Legislature began January 7th. The first Medicaid-related bill on the docket for a hearing in the Joint Health and Human Services Committee took place at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 10. To view Resolution No. 84-122018-16 in its entirety, please visit ponderamedical.org.

Sources: NPR, Inc; Llew Jones; Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, missoulacurrent.com

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