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Gov. Steve Bullock

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, center, signs a bill to expand Medicaid to about 70,000 low-income Montanans in 2015 at the Capitol in Helena as bill sponsor Republican Sen. Ed Buttrey, left, of Great Falls looks on.

Medicaid expansion in Montana provided beneficiaries more than $800 million worth of health care, comprising mostly federal funding, that would not otherwise have been spent here.

That’s according to a recent report from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, and on Wednesday, Gov. Steve Bullock hosted a roundtable discussion with health care officials at St. Patrick Hospital to “highlight the health and economic benefits of Medicaid” in the Missoula community.

“We’re bringing our federal dollars home to infuse the local economy,” Bullock said. “There are real people and real lives that are being impacted.”

Economists Bryce Ward and Brandon Bridge of the BBER found that Medicaid expansion, created by the federal HELP Act of 2015, has a greater effect on Montana’s economy than all of the state’s beverage manufacturing, which includes craft breweries and distilleries.

The report was paid for by two nonprofits, the Montana Healthcare Foundation and the Headwaters Foundation.

“Assuming that enrollment plateaus near current levels, Medicaid expansion will introduce approximately $350 million to $400 million of new spending to Montana’s economy each year,” Bridge and Ward wrote. “This spending ripples through Montana’s economy, generating approximately 5,000 jobs and $270 million in personal income in each year between 2018 and 2020.”

Bullock’s roundtable included members of Providence St. Patrick Hospital and Partnership Health Center, along with a couple of the 93,000 Montanans who’ve enrolled in Medicaid.

The main benefit for many on Medicaid is the economic stability; stories of small-business owners, veterans and working parents were shared. None could afford health insurance for several years, before Montana’s Medicaid expansion in 2015.

Now, those people can access preventive care, and afford the best treatments, not just the most affordable ones.

John Crawford, who's on the patient board for Partnership Health Center, is a Montana National Guard veteran with a disabled daughter. Getting on Medicaid provided his family with basic support that was sorely lacking. 

"It's able to provide a level of security that we haven't had, oh God, in years," Crawford said. "We have our needs taken care of."

The study also found Medicaid expansion appears to reduce crime, improve health and lower debt. A 2017 study by Jacob Vogler at the University of Illinois found that because many of the newly eligible individuals for Medicaid-provided health insurance are adults at high risk for crime, expansion efforts have resulted in decreases of annual crime by 3 percent nationally, which saved the country $13 billion.

The roundtable agreed. Taking the burden of health insurance off low-income or struggling Montanan’ backs is helping people succeed.

“If folks still don’t think that this is good for Montana, is there anything we can do to convince them?” Bullock asked. “This is something we need to make sure we preserve and protect moving forward.”

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Arts and entertainment

arts reporter for the Missoulian.