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    Montana Medicaid Expansion Earns Good Grades

    By Eric Whitney, Montana Public Radio

    Wed, Mar 23 2016

    Montana’s new Medicaid expansion just got its first progress report, and it is exceeding expectations.

    Initial projections were for about 23,000 of the state’s estimated 70,000 Medicaid-eligible residents to take up the new coverage in its first year. Instead, in the first quarter, since its rollout on Jan. 1, enrollment is at 38,298.

    The report came Tuesday from the Medicaid expansion oversight committee that Montana’s legislature set up when it approved expansion last year. Supporters cheered the numbers, but some Republicans are still pushing for repeal.

    Marie Matthews, an official in the state health department that administers the expansion, reported “incredible success.”

    “This program has already saved the state general fund about $3 million,” she said.

    That’s because the federal government is now paying 100 percent of the cost of care for about 8,000 Medicaid recipients that in the past the state was picking up some costs for health coverage.

    “As required in this piece of [state] legislation, that money was appropriated to the [health] department,” Matthews told the committee, “and because we saved it, we froze it and gave it back to the general fund.”

    Matthews reported that, so far, federal expansion funds have paid for $38 million in health care services for Montanans. The health department said 80 percent of those services have been people with incomes below the federal poverty level ($11,880 for an individual this year). Matthews said the payments have been roughly evenly split between outpatient visits, hospital care and pharmaceuticals.

    Montana’s expansion was a compromise written to win support from enough Republicans to get through the GOP-controlled legislature so that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock could sign it. That meant negotiating a federal waiver that requires co-pays and premiums to be charged to recipients with incomes above 50 percent of the federal poverty level. They can be charged up to 2 percent of their quarterly income to get coverage.

    Matthews says the average premium is $31 a month, and that initial collections are strong.

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