Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Feel Our Pain

In all likelihood, Montanans will soon experience fewer health benefits when visiting the doctor

Immortalizing some of our meanest ideologies, politicians are covertly crafting strategies to repeal many health care benefits that every Montanan enjoys.

Available to everyone, last decade’s health care reforms abolished lifetime limits on insurance benefits, protects those with preexisting medical conditions, and allows dependents on plans up to age 26.

Everyone knows a loved one who is sick, dying, or needs medical care.

There’s an unhealthy gap between the political rhetoric headlining the news and the practicality of governing. Our nation and state remains mired in “he said, she said” politics where all nonsensical rhetoric is paramount, while no blueprint of health care reform is available for public review.

Anyone caring to visualize the effects of Montana’s health care reforms could look no further than the Shepherd’s Hand Free Clinic in Whitefish where a steady downturn in the number of patients has occurred.

Montana expanded Medicaid to provide health care to every citizen between the ages of 19-64 who earn 138 percent of the national poverty level. Plans include small premium payments and work eligibility.

More that 70,000 people now enjoy health care through the Montana Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership Act. HELP is a unique partnership between Montana and the federal government, offering security to citizens and hospitals.

Over 6,000 Flathead County citizens enjoy health insurance via HELP. Nearly 10,000 veterans in Montana will lose their health insurance if politicians repeal this coverage.

Statewide up to 140,000 Montanans are at risk of losing access to health care.  The same politicians also seek to abolish women’s health care services like Planned Parenthood.

Politicians often tout federal reforms like pools for sick people, or purchasing health insurance policies across state lines. Both options remain permitted in current law if state lawmakers could muster some action.   

Beyond political will, Montana’s Legislature needs our federal partners to enact many reforms.

The rhetoric that health care savings accounts will help all people is absurd. Most wage earners don’t have those levels of discretionary cash for a sudden or routine test like an MRI, costing $3,000.

One party controls all three branches of federal government and most state legislatures, including Montana. Yet their health care reform plans remain secret. Hopefully they’ll craft better coverage and a more affordable way forward to care.

But in all likelihood, Montanans will soon experience fewer health benefits when visiting the doctor. Lower wage earners are likely to see scarcer tax breaks to help pay for absurdly expensive insurance, and fewer locals are likely to receive HELP-subsidized insurance.

Meanwhile, state and federal politicians enjoy some of the best health insurance coverage available on our planet.

Montana lawmakers receive full taxpayer-subsidized health care for working four months in session of a 24-month term.  Lawmakers receive over $10,000 annually in just health care benefits.

Whatever politicians do to dismantle the benefits that help ailing people afford medical bills will cement those reformers to politically owning all the problems associated with future health care.

Today, the number of uninsured people across the nation and Montana hasn’t been lower. That’s great news for anyone hoping that a loved one has good access to the best possible care, and welcome news for any free health clinic.

There are plenty of reforms possible that make health care better, like extending refundable health care tax breaks to all instead of only lower income earners.

Good reforms doesn’t include cutting federal funds to Medicaid or Medicare, or reducing lower wage earner’s federal tax breaks used in Montana to purchase expensive health insurance on an open market.

Politicians could reform Medicare, opening the program to all or those aged 55 or older, but that’s scary and courageous.  Seems unrealistic even in today’s world of surreal politics.

Feel our pain. Any politician working to repeal Montanans’ health care tax breaks, HELP-subsidized health insurance, or existing care benefits should start by surrendering their own taxpayer-funded insurance. Fair is fair.

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