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Missoulian mailbag

We at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, drawing on our religious traditions, scripture and the ministry and example of Jesus, support continuing Medicaid expansion to care for those who simply cannot afford other health care. Former Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, Desmond Tutu, once said, “…the good news to a hungry person is bread.” He could just as well have said that the good news to a sick -person is health care. Jesus' ministry was filled with healing the sick. He cured them — gave them back their health, renewed life and restored place in the community. He told us to do likewise.

Medicaid expansion in Montana will expire in June unless continued by the State Legislature. Few people have anything but praise for this program. Some 95,000 Montanans have coverage they didn't have before. They receive medical care sooner, which many recipients say has improved their health. Medicaid Expansion also offers outpatient mental health and substance abuse treatment for addiction and depression, which is expected to reduce the number of those needing costlier residential and inpatient treatment. Medicaid Expansion is a lifeline for both rural Montanans and the hospitals that serve them, with some 6,000 jobs added in the medical field alone. The state's economy has greatly benefited from $600 million in additional income.

Some legislators want to put work and reporting requirements in place as the price for making Medicaid expansion permanent. In Kentucky, they have budgeted $187 million to cover the cost of implementing and tracking work and reporting requirements. We believe it is better stewardship to spend precious dollars directly on those in need. It is estimated that between 31,000 and 43,000 Montanans with health care coverage under Medicaid expansion could lose it, as projected by the non-partisan Montana Healthcare Foundation, if work and reporting requirements are instituted. In Arkansas, the first state to put in place such requirements, nearly 17,000 people lost coverage from Medicaid expansion because they couldn't find work, couldn't navigate the complicated online reporting system, couldn't get access to a computer, or didn't even know such reporting was required. If Arkansas people fail to find work or report it correctly, they are removed from Medicaid and can't re-enroll until the following January.

Are you aware that most people covered by Medicaid expansion in Montana already work? Two-thirds of those who can work do, and, of those not working, 37 percent are sick or disabled, 33 percent are taking care of children or elderly family members and 18 percent are in school. The fact is that those at the poverty line must work multiple jobs because most jobs don't pay a livable wage. Indeed, those with Medicaid expansion coverage have little time in their lives for anything but work. And far from being a hand-up, work requirements could eliminate their health care — making it even harder for them to work and cope. Why add the burden of work on the third who for good reason are not able to be employed?

Please contact your legislators (https://leg.mt.gov/web-messaging/) and ask them to put Medicaid Expansion on a permanent footing as is, without costly work and reporting requirements. The first legislative hearing on HB 425 is on March 16, before the House Human Services Committee.

 

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This column is signed by the following representatives of the Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Missoula: Rev. Terri Ann Grotzinger, rector; James Wiley, senior warden; Elizabeth Ettinger, junior warden; Carla Mettling and Clem Work, advocacy coordinators.

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