State report: Senate health care proposal jeopardizes Healthy Montana Kids program

Half of all births in Montana covered by the Healthy Montana Kids program and insurance provided to most children in the state could be at risk if the U.S. Senate passes proposed health care legislation, a report released Tuesday said.

In its new report, the Montana Budget and Policy Center said health care reforms proposed by the GOP would cost Montana $5.3 billion in federal Medicaid funds, jeopardizing the state’s Healthy Montana Kids program.

The cuts could run deeper if Congress moves to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“Healthy Montana Kids covers some of our most vulnerable children and many kids whose parents are struggling to make ends meet,” said Heather O’Loughlin, co-director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center. “Children represent nearly half of Montanans accessing Medicaid, and the current plans before Congress puts their coverage and health at risk.”

The Senate plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with the Better Care and Reconciliation Act would cut Medicaid by nearly $800 billion over 10 years. Sen. Jon Tester has stated his opposition to the plan while Sen. Steve Daines said he would support a full repeal.

By capping the amount of money states get from the federal government, the report suggests, the bill would shift significant costs to Montana and other states, forcing them to cut services and the number of individuals covered.

The cuts have many parents worried.

“Medicaid is a critical lifeline for my family that allows us to access the care that my son needs to survive and live a full life,” said Alyson Ball, the mother of a boy with developmental and physical disabilities. “My son’s success story is a Medicaid success story. We cannot afford to cut Medicaid coverage to the thousands of families like mine who desperately need it.”

Ball, who serves as president of the Special Education Parent Teacher Association in Bozeman, said her 11-year-old son has cerebral palsy and depends upon a feeding tube to survive.

While the family has group health coverage through the father’s employer, special formula suited to the feeding tube is not covered by the plan, nor is most of the therapies needed to keep the child alive.

“Medicaid has filled that life-threatening gap,” said Ball. “With coverage from Medicaid, (our son) has had access to the services he needs.”

With the Senate health care bill most likely dead, President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are pushing Congress to repeal the ACA.

That, report says, could lead to devastating cuts in Montana, impacting an array of programs including Healthy Montana Kids – the children’s Medicaid and CHIP program.

Half of all births in the state are covered by the program, and 51 percent of all Medicaid enrollees in the state are children.

“More than two-thirds of the children we serve are covered through Medicaid, and this bill could have huge ramifications on children getting the health care they deserve,” said Craig Aasved, CEO of Shodair Children’s Hospital in Helena.