Flathead County to Receive $106,685 for New Health Care Law

By Beacon Staff

Seventeen community health centers in Montana are being awarded grants under the federal health care law, including Flathead County, which is receiving one of the largest amounts.

The state’s health centers will get $1.5 million total to help enroll the uninsured in new health coverage options made available by the Affordable Care Act. The centers often treat uninsured patients.

Flathead County is receiving $106,685. The Lincoln County Community Health Center in Libby is receiving $87,028.

U.S. Senator Max Baucus says the grants will create 27 jobs across the state to help uninsured residents navigate insurance choices on the insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, being set up next year under the law. Tax credits will help offset the price of the private insurance.

The grant awards are part of $150 million going to 1,200 community health centers across the country to train 3,000 new outreach workers who will assist 4 million individuals with the exchange enrollment.

“These grants will create jobs for hard-working Montanans right away and help more Montana families get the health coverage they need,” Baucus said.

“The Affordable Care Act is already helping thousands of seniors and families across Montana, and we need to get information out there about all the additional benefits that are coming. Having dedicated folks at community health centers to help their neighbors understand and sign up for the exchanges will go a long way toward getting families covered – and when more folks have insurance, health care costs are lower for everyone.”

Baucus says a recent state report found that insurance will be cheaper on the exchanges than it would have without the Affordable Care Act.

Montana Community Health Centers served about 99,000 patients last year and nearly half of them did not have insurance, according to Baucus’ office. On average, Montana families with insurance pay about $2,000 extra on their premiums each year to cover the cost of caring for those without insurance.

“A lot of Montanans have been worried about how Obamacare would affect the cost of health insurance,” Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen said in a statement.

“These preliminary figures show that rates haven’t skyrocketed. Rates are actually lower than projections, which is a relief to a lot of Montanans, including me.”

Following a decision by the 2011 Legislature, Montana’s marketplace is being establish by the federal government instead of the state. Three companies – Blue Cross Blue Shield, PacificSource and the Montana Health Co-Op – submitted plans to sell products in the marketplace.

According to Lindeen’s study, a Montanan buying health insurance in the individual market can expect to pay an average of $273 a month for comprehensive health insurance purchased in the marketplace, compared to an estimated average of $290 a month had the Affordable Care Act not passed, according to Lindeen’s report. A small business consumer can expect to pay and average of $375 a month per employee for a comprehensive small group plan in the marketplace, compared to an average of $450 a month per employee had health reform not passed.

None of these figures include the federal purchasing assistance available to both individuals and small businesses buying in the marketplace, Lindeen stated. Many Montanans – up to 80 percent in the individual market — are expected to qualify for and use such assistance, meaning their actual out-of-pocket expenses on health insurance could be significantly lower.

Beginning Oct. 1, residents can begin shopping for health insurance in the state’s marketplace, an online insurance store that includes products sold by different insurance companies. Any policies purchased there will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2014.

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