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At 43 years old, Mallory never imagined she’d be on her own. Recently divorced from an 18-year abusive marriage, with no children and no supportive family members in the area, Mallory came to YWCA Helena to find support and guidance as she endeavors to build stability and independence for the first time in her life. While staying at the YWCA, she’s successfully maintained two minimum-wage jobs in the service industry, one employer offering 25 hours a week and another 15 hours a week, neither employer offering full-time shifts, which allows the employers to avoid paying health insurance benefits.

Mallory recently met with a Healthcare Navigator to discuss health coverage options through the marketplace. What she learned was that despite being employed 40 hours per week, her wages are less than the poverty line for a single person and therefore she does not qualify for an Affordable Care Act subsidy for private insurance. Additionally, Mallory does not qualify for Montana Medicaid, which is a federal health insurance program geared at disabled and low-income individuals.

Mallory is just one of the almost 70,000 Montanans who fall into this gap and are overwhelmed with the responsibility of finding quality, affordable, timely health care options.

The YWCA’s of Montana are dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women. We live out this mission by providing services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and housing for homeless women and families. The women, children and men served by Montana’s four YWCAs face homelessness, food and economic insecurity, and alienation from family and friend support systems. Adding to this the lack of access to health care, and the stakes seem almost insurmountable.

Luckily, there is a viable solution to this health care gap being considered in the Legislature.

The federal government has offered to pick up the tab for the cost of expanding the Medicaid program in Montana for the first three years, gradually reducing the financial support to 90 percent. Expanding the Montana Medicaid program would mean that individuals like Francine making less than $16,105, and families who earn less than $32,913, would have access to the health care options they so desperately need and deserve.

However, accepting these federal funds for expansion doesn't just impact individuals. Expanding Medicaid will also help create jobs, boost our Montana economy, support hospitals struggling with uncompensated care, and build healthier communities by allowing people to see a doctor before their illnesses and injuries reach costly and dangerous levels.

YWCA staff, volunteers, supporters and clients like Mallory are your neighbors, family members, co-workers and friends. And we believe passing Medicaid expansion in 2015 is a moral and fiscal imperative.

Janet Duffy is executive director of YWCA Great Falls, Merry Lee Olson is chief executive officer of YWCA Billings, Kelly McBride is executive director of YWCA Helena and Cindy Weese is executive director of YWCA Missoula. 

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