Expansion Launched for Montana Children’s Health insurance Program

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – State officials unveiled a plan Wednesday to quickly and dramatically expand government health insurance to children following the Oct. 1 implementation of the voter-approved Healthy Montana Kids program.

The initiative was approved by a large margin last November. It combines the previously separate Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid for children, while significantly simplifying the application and administration process.

In total, the two programs currently serve about 70,000 kids. The Department of Public Health and Human Services estimates another 30,000 could be added under the new program for $112 million over the next two years. Of that, about a fifth is paid for by the state and the rest comes from federal programs.

“Our goal is to have 100,000 Montana kids covered,” said agency director Anna Whiting Sorrell. “What a wonderful thing for the state of Montana to have 100,000 kids covered.”

She said DPHHS plans a big outreach program in an effort to make sure most children in Montana have health insurance. Schools are handing out information, as are community health clinics. The agency has outreach coordinators charged with helping people sign up.

In addition, what once was a 12 page application has been cut by about half, and it is possible to apply over the Internet. But the agency will have to convince some people it’s worthwhile to provide health insurance for their children.

“I think Montanans are real proud,” she said. “They don’t ask for help.”

About 15 percent of children in the state currently don’t have health insurance, or about 34,000 kids. That ranks Montana fifth for the highest number of uninsured children.

Under the new guidelines, a family of four earning up to $55,000 a year will qualify for the assistance — or about 250 percent of the poverty level.

There are no monthly premiums, but some families will have copay requirements.

Even though the voters approved the plan, it was a contentious issue during the legislative session earlier this year. Children are eligible up to the age of 19.

Republicans bucked funding for the measure, arguing that voters didn’t realize how expensive it would be and had no idea a recession was coming when they approved it. Some GOP lawmakers argued that it was unfair to provide health insurance to middle class families while other state services languished.

But Democrats made the program an essential part of budget negotiations, and hailed implementation of the program as a big success.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.