Auditor: Montana Ready for US Health Care Overhaul

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Montana’s insurance regulator told lawmakers Monday that the state’s first role in implementing federal health care overhaul will go into place shortly.

State Auditor Monica Lindeen said her office will have a new high-risk insurance pool running this summer, paid for by a $16 million federal grant.

An interim committee of lawmakers will be looking at legislation needed to implement federal health care overhaul, much of which will be run and administered by the states.

Lindeen said that no new legislation is needed to set up the high-risk pool because Montana already has a similar state-run high-risk pool in place. Larger and more complex pieces — such as setting up an insurance exchange for the uninsured by 2014 — will require action from the state Legislature.

The new high-risk pool will be run alongside the existing one, which serves about 3,000 residents who have difficulty getting health insurance usually because of a pre-existing condition.

Lindeen said no state money will be used in the new effort.

She also said the cost of the insurance will be equal to the cost of health insurance in the normal market. Her office is currently working on rules and details.

“It will be an affordable rate,” she said.

The federal health care reform will also use state-run insurance exchanges, offering several levels of coverage, for the uninsured to purchase with the help of upfront federal tax credits.

Lindeen said lawmakers will likely need to pass enabling legislation during the 2011 session, because the 2013 session would be too late for key deadlines. The program must be available and running by 2014.

“We may be one of the first states in the nation to figure out exactly what our exchange looks like,” Lindeen said. “The rest of the nation will be looking at us.”

Estimates peg the number of uninsured in Montana at about 159,000. Of those, a small portion will qualify for modestly increased Medicaid rolls, while most of the rest will get a stipend to buy the private health insurance in the exchange.

Lindeen lauded health insurance reforms going in place much sooner, such as a ban on denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. Her office will be charged with making sure the industry complies with the new rules.

“All of the market reforms really make sense,” she said.