INSURE MONTANA SHOWS EARLY SUCCESS, MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE
By Montana State Auditor John Morrison
Not long ago, Nikki Glynos-Wolford from the Montana Wellness Center, checked into Kalispell Regional hospital to give birth to her first child. There were complications and the medical bills piled up fast. Fortunately, Nikki and her family had health insurance that saved them from bankruptcy and “has changed their lives.”
In Bozeman, Terry Quatraro, director of the Little People’s Academy, is now able to provide health insurance to her three employees for the first time. That made it possible for Angie, a day care assistant, to get her broken right eardrum repaired, so she can hear again.
In Billings, Joe Stout at The Bike Shop suffered for years with a serious dental problem until he was able to get the treatment he needed, thanks to his new coverage.
What do Nikki, Angie and Joe have in common? Theirs are just a few of the lives touched by Insure Montana, the small business health insurance program launched last year. Insure Montana uses tobacco tax revenue to provide tax credits and premium assistance to help workplaces in Montana get covered. So far, 1,271 businesses have joined the program, covering more than 7,000 workers. Most of them make less than 30 thousand dollars per year and are getting health coverage for the first time. Insure Montana targets employers with 2-9 employees because over half of Montana’s uninsured work full time for such small businesses.
Insure Montana was created by legislation that I worked on with many of you for several years. It passed and was signed by Governor Schweitzer during the 2005 legislative session. We also that year expanded the Children’s Health Insurance Program to cover several thousand more kids, drawing millions in new federal matching dollars into Montana. Thanks to these efforts and others, we have taken historic strides toward affordable coverage for all Montanans, but there is much more work ahead.
Insure Montana has shown what can be done with good strategy and smart money. So I am asking the legislature to give us the tools to move forward. First, we want to have a chance to offer Insure Montana to sole proprietors and businesses with up to 15 employees. Second, we want a wellness benefit that helps workers stay healthy and keeps costs down. Third, we want the flexibility to expand coverage to additional uninsured Montanans by utilizing innovative insurance concepts. These steps will keep us moving forward, providing affordable coverage to more and more Montanans. If you agree, please call your state representative and senator and ask them to support SB 140. Folks are also invited to testify in support of Insure Montana. In the coming weeks, SB 140 will be heard in the state senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Safety.
As important as these measures are, they will not solve the health care crisis. More needs to be done. If we want a real solution, we need to contain health care costs in our country. In the next few weeks, I’ll write about steps we can take to cut costs tremendously while improving the quality of care.
Most Montanans want universal, affordable, high quality health care. Congress can do a great deal to move the ball forward. I am encouraged that President Bush raised the issue of state innovations in his State of the Union address and has proposed federal support for state small business health plans like Insure Montana. But we need to be sensible about how we proceed – we can’t lose ground and we shouldn’t tax people who already pay too much for health insurance premiums. Senator Baucus helped start the CHIP program and has channeled millions of federal dollars into Montana to support health care delivery and programs for the uninsured. The new congressional leadership may finally allow Medicare to bargain with pharmaceutical companies for better prices, which will help with prescription drug costs. So far, though, most of the innovation in health care delivery and coverage has come from the states. Insure Montana is one success story. Now states like Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, and Illinois are shooting for the big prize – universal health care.
A couple of years ago I chaired the Health Insurance and Managed Care Committee of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. We got state insurance regulators into the hunt for health policy solutions. This year, we are asking Congress – whatever they do – to allow the states to continue our quest for universal, affordable health coverage. In Montana, we'll start by making Insure Montana available to even more hard working citizens and their families and not stop until we reach our goal: full coverage and access to high quality health care for every Montanan.
John Morrison is the elected Montana State Auditor and Commissioner of Insurance and Securities. For Information on Insure Montana, call 1-800-332-6148 or visit the website: www.insuremontana.org.