The United States’ healthcare system is a mess of complex regulations and layers of bureaucracy. It’s also expensive. But Republicans in the Montana Legislature have made great strides in recent years to address what problems we can at the state level.
We’ve emphasized improving healthcare by giving Montanans more options, reducing regulations, and giving doctors more freedom to practice medicine. In the 2021 Legislature, for example, we relaxed regulations on tele-health, opening the door for more affordable and convenient visits over the phone or through videoconferencing. That year we also expanded direct patient care allowing doctors to bypass insurance companies and contract directly with their patients.
We built on that foundation in the 2023 legislative session that recently wrapped up. The two of us passed five new healthcare laws: Senate Bills 112 and 564 by Sen. Tom McGillvray and House Bills 313, 392, and 665 by Rep. Jodee Etchart. The reforms are designed to increase access to care and provide more affordable options.
Senate Bill 112 improves access to prescription medications, especially in rural parts of the state where healthcare providers are few and far between. The new law allows pharmacists to directly prescribe certain medications to patients without having to go through a doctor’s office. Medications that help with diabetes, allergic reactions, UTIs, and strep throat are examples of simple yet time-sensitive needs that SB 112 is targeting. SB 112 keeps some reasonable regulations in place, such as not allowing pharmacists to prescribe any controlled substances, but it gets unnecessary red tape out of the way of caring for Montanans.
House Bills 313 and 392 increase freedom for certain medical providers by expanding the care they can provide. HB 313 allows physician assistants (PAs) to practice independently of physicians and clarifies insurance coverage for their work under different health programs. HB 392 allows midwives to obtain and use more types of prescription drugs in their care of mothers and newborn babies.
Senate Bill 564 removes unnecessary regulations on the Montana Health Corps program and allows physicians to provide free healthcare services to people on Medicare or Medicaid or who are in poverty. It gives those doctors limited immunity for the free services they provide. The new law also allows in-home visits for people who don’t have the physical or financial means to travel to a doctor’s office.
Finally, House Bill 665 requires insurance companies to cover additional breast cancer screening examinations by expanding the definition of “minimum” coverage to include diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs.
Collectively, these five new laws increase Montanans’ access to needed medications and medical care, allow midwives to provide better care for mothers and babies, help serve those in poverty, and improve screening for breast cancer.
These improvements in Montana healthcare were achieved without spending more taxpayer money and without creating or growing government programs. This policy work places Montana at the forefront of healthcare innovation and we’ll continue these efforts in future legislative sessions.
Sen. Tom McGillvray and Rep. Jodee Etchart are both Republican legislators from Billings.
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