As a business owner of an auto dealership in Billings, I believe that access to health care makes for a healthy and productive workforce. That is why my business pays 100 percent of our employees’ health insurance.
I also believe it is vital for each of us to share our personal experiences, so we can work towards a stronger and healthier Montana.
Let me tell you my story. Like most of us, my family has been touched by cancer. I lost my father to throat cancer, which was devastating. My life was touched again when my son was diagnosed with fanconia anemia and required a bone marrow transplant. Fortunately my family had health insurance, and today he is thriving.
My personal experiences motivate me to do what I can to eliminate cancer. For the past 15 years I have volunteered with the American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. I work with cancer survivors and other members of the Billings community and have discovered how important a role our lawmakers play in the fight against cancer. Cancer knows no political boundaries — Democrats and Republicans alike hear the words “you have cancer.”
Unfortunately, one of my most disappointing moments as a volunteer was a few weeks ago, on March 6, when I went to Helena to testify in support of the Healthy Montana Plan — a proposal that would provide low-income Montanans access to comprehensive health care coverage, including cancer prevention, early detection and treatment services.
After hearing nearly seven hours of testimony from more than 250 proponents, including individuals in the “coverage gap,” leadership from rural hospitals, businessmen and even clergy, the members of this committee voted down the Healthy Montana Plan.
As upsetting as that moment was, a new opportunity came when the bipartisan HELP Act (Senate Bill 405) was introduced recently. This may not be the exact plan some of us wanted, but it is a compromise that allows Montana to return millions of dollars in federal funds to our state that will create thousands of jobs and stimulate the economy. More importantly, it will provide access to affordable health care for the 70,000 Montanans who need it.
I am encouraged that the majority of legislators want to get this done. They are willing to come together to find a compromise to provide low-income Montanans with health care, improving access to cancer screenings and increasing likelihood that cancers can be detecting at an earlier, more curable stage that is far less expensive to treat. It will also help curb health care costs so that employers like me can continue to provide health care benefits to our employees.
I ask that you join me in supporting a compromise solution. It is critical that our Legislature consider the fiscal and physical health of our community, accept the federal dollars, and give 70,000 Montanans the health care they need and deserve.