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What do rural hospitals, small businesses, and 1 in 10 Montanans have in common?

They all benefit from Montana’s Medicaid expansion.

That’s why I’ve introduced the Keep Montana Healthy Act, which will continue a program that works well for the health of all Montanans.

During the 2015 legislative session, I proudly co-sponsored a bill that expanded health care coverage to 1 in 10 Montanans. Now, four years later, Medicaid expansion is firing on all cylinders.

Here’s what we know:

First and foremost, Montanans are healthier than ever. For breast cancer and colon cancer alone, more than 14,000 Montanans had access to cancer screenings that allowed for early detection and treatment because of Medicaid expansion.

Second, Montana Medicaid has provided a backbone for small businesses and generated hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity for our state. What’s more? The program will save the state a projected $60 million by 2020.

Third, Montana’s Medicaid program created a bipartisan, highly successful workforce development program called HELP-Link that has helped Medicaid enrollees access workforce training and a path to higher wages. After Medicaid expansion went into effect, workforce participation from low-income Montanans increased by 9 percent. Within a year after receiving these services, 81 percent of the HELP-Link enrollees are employed, and 71 percent saw an increase in their paychecks.

And finally, we know Montana Medicaid has thrown a lifeline to our rural hospitals and empowered rural Montanans to seek preventative care. Since the legislature passed Medicaid expansion in 2015, our state has not lost a single rural hospital.

There are no ifs, ands or buts about it: Montana Medicaid expansion has been a good deal for our state.

That’s why, during the first week of the 2019 legislative session, I brought forward the Keep Montana Healthy Act.

It’s the only bill before the legislature that protects health care coverage for 1 in 10 Montanans, supports the 18,000 businesses in Montana that employ someone enrolled in Medicaid, and keeps the doors open to the rural hospitals that have seen a reduction in bad debt and uncompensated care.

Unfortunately, the only other proposal being brought forward would include incredibly costly, ineffective work requirements masquerading as “community benefits” that would pile on the bureaucratic red tape and kick Montanans off their health care.

Work requirements have been a disaster in every state that has tried it and there is no doubt that a work requirement in our state would cost Montana taxpayers more money just to provide health care to fewer people.

Montanans value work, and in our state, work quotas and unpaid labor requirements are unnecessary. The majority of Montanans enrolled in Medicaid are already working, and others are going to school, are caretakers for family members, or are managing a disability or illness.

Some of these proposals could even force Montanans to turn over their private medical information to the government in the form of a mandatory “health assessment” before they would be permitted to enroll in the Medicaid plan.

That just doesn’t make any sense.

In Montana, our constituents expect us to promote common-sense ideas that fulfill our obligations, while also living within our means.

My Keep Montana Healthy Act will do just that.

Sometimes the best thing to do is recognize when you have something good. So when it comes to the bipartisan, made-in-Montana Medicaid Program, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, represents House District 81 in the Montana Legislature. 

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