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Hearings on Montana’s Medicaid-expansion changes delayed until end of July

Posted at 4:57 PM, Jul 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-12 18:57:52-04

HELENA — Next week’s hearings on key changes to Montana’s $750 million-a-year Medicaid expansion program have been delayed for two weeks, state health officials said.

Health officials said they rescheduled the hearings at the request of the federal government, which wanted to give Montanans more time to examine the proposed changes in the program that provides health coverage to nearly 100,000 low-income Montanans.

“Because Medicaid is a program that is jointly funded and managed by the federal and state government, accommodating federal requests is part of the process,” the state Department of Public Health and Human Services said in a statement Friday.

The proposed changes and notice for the original hearings were released a month ago.

The public hearings, which had been scheduled next Monday and Thursday in Helena and Billings, respectively, are required for any “waivers” or changes to the program.

The new hearings are scheduled for July 31 at the Billings Clinic Conference Center, starting at 11:30 a.m., and Aug. 1 at the Sanders Auditorium in Helena, starting at 11 a.m. Both are scheduled for two hours.

Medicaid expansion, approved by the Legislature in 2015 and reauthorized this year, was one of the biggest issues before the 2019 Legislature.

A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans approved the re-authorization, but not without creating new work requirements for participants in the program and higher premiums for those who stay on the program for more than two years.

Those two changes are the main subject of the hearing. While the Legislature mandated those changes in state law, the federal government must approve them as a “waiver” to the usual Medicaid programs.

The Bullock administration plans to submit the proposed waiver to U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services by Aug. 30.

The new work requirements say some participants must take part in 80 hours of work or “community engagement” each month. Those activities include workforce training, college or vocational school or drug treatment.

Also, the Bullock administration estimates that 92 percent of the people using Medicaid expansion are either exempt or already meet the requirements.

The current premium for some participants is 2 percent of their modified adjusted gross income. Those earning less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level — $6,250 a year for a single person — do not have to pay premiums.

The change enacted by the Legislature says after a participant is on the program for two years, those paying premiums will see an increase of 0.5 percent a year, up to 4 percent maximum.