As the nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, families across Montana are counting on our elected officials to act in the best interest of our state. While all communities are threatened by the spread of this virus, folks living in rural Montana will face significant additional challenges.
In an effort to contain COVID-19, schools and universities are closed across the state, forcing students at all levels to transition their studies to online learning. Undoubtedly, this disruption will impact all students, but students in rural Montana will be significantly disadvantaged because many still lack access to the high-speed broadband required for any type of online streaming or video conferencing.
Greg Gianforte voted against a grant that is now providing rural broadband access for communities in Southwest Montana. And while it’s great to see him embracing telemedicine as a tool to expand healthcare services across rural areas, he should realize that Montanans without internet access can’t access the telemedicine that he’s touting! This latest crisis demonstrates how critical high-speed broadband is to communities across our state, yet Gianforte voted against this grant which appropriated $3.3 million for a high-speed broadband project in rural Beaverhead County. Gianforte may do his best to claim credit for the grant (he voted against) by showing up for photo ops, but rural Montanans won’t forget his betrayal that easily.
Likewise, the coronavirus crisis is going to test the limits of Montana’s healthcare system, and our rural hospitals will be stretched especially thin. As more COVID-19 cases are confirmed across the state, Montanans and their families will increasingly rely upon their medical providers for COVID-19 testing and treatment. In the midst of an outbreak that doesn’t discriminate, our rural hospitals will become more critical than ever.
Which is why Congressman Gianforte’s continued assault on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion is totally unacceptable. Our state is navigating an emerging public health crisis and our rural hospitals and the communities they support need Medicaid expansion for survival. Now is the time to strengthen all Montanans’ access to quality, affordable health care, not weaken it. Gianforte’s attacks on rural hospitals and patients are downright wrong.
This November, Montana needs to elect a governor who stands for all Montanans. Greg Gianforte’s votes against rural broadband and Medicaid expansion has left rural families vulnerable in the face of a national public health emergency. Rural Montana deserves better.
Ron de Yong was Director of Agriculture for Montana for over nine years, taught agricultural policy and economics at Cal Poly State University for seven years, and operated a family farm near Kalispell for over 30 years.
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