Uninsured Montanans who receive a recommendation from a provider will be eligible to receive coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment, Gov. Steve Bullock announced Tuesday, while workers who are furloughed or laid off due to the pandemic will be able to apply for unemployment benefits.
“This is a significant step in containing the spread of coronavirus in our state. We know that the lack of health insurance often results in the delay of seeing a doctor or being turned away, which could further fuel this pandemic and put other Montanans at risk,” Bullock said of the new measure. “It’s going to take all of us working together to slow the spread, and that includes looking out for those who don’t have health insurance, particularly those most vulnerable.”
Under the governor’s emergency authority, state funds, with potential for federal funds, will be used to pay for COVID-19 testing for Montanans without health insurance. If confirmed positive for COVID-19, funds will be used to cover treatment costs. Montanans will be required to provide a recommendation from a provider according to current CDC guidance and the state will reimburse them for that provider visit.
According to the governor, those who have lost their jobs because of business closures or who have to self-quarantine will be able to go online and apply for benefits. Bullock urged anyone interested in applying to visit MontanaWorks.gov. Officials said they have made arrangements with the federal government to ensure furloughed and laid off employees start receiving benefits as soon as possible with no waiting period.
During an afternoon teleconference with the media, Bullock described measures the state would take to cover the expense of coronavirus testing and treatment for those who do not have health insurance. Meanwhile, some health insurance providers have already announced that they would waive the cost of testing only.
Since last week, the state has processed 311 coronavirus tests and was working on processing another 204 tests late Tuesday afternoon. The results from those tests processed today were not available as of 5 p.m. So far, eight people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state. Bullock said on Tuesday most of those cases stemmed from the Montana Board of Regents meeting in Dillon on March 5 and 6. Among those who tested positive from that event was Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian.
While a number of counties across the state have forced bars and restaurants to close their doors or only offer takeout and delivery options, Bullock said he would not yet implement a statewide closure order. On Tuesday, Flathead County health officials urged businesses to change their day-to-day operations to promote social distancing but would not issue an order to close. However, a number of local restaurants have already closed their dining areas and are only offering take-out services.