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New project to help Montanans sustain Medicaid coverage

Without health insurance, a health crisis can quickly turn into a life-changing expense
Posted at 6:39 AM, Apr 05, 2024

MISSOULA — Without health insurance, a health crisis can quickly turn into a life-changing expense.

Cover Montana is a new project through the Montana Primary Care Association that is working to get as many qualified people as possible enrolled in Medicaid and Healthy Montana Kids.

The Cover Montana Project was started due to the high rate of Medicaid patients who were unenrolled over the past year.

Project leader Olivia Riutta, says they found 1 in 10 Montanans lost their health insurance through Medicaid or Healthy Montana Kids.

Riutta’s project is using community partners to expand access to and information about Medicaid enrollment. A large reason people lost coverage since last year was due to minor issues in paperwork.

Cover Montana is offering Zoom training that will teach leaders how to help people apply for Medicaid or Healthy Montana Kids.

Riutta says having as many Medicaid resources in the community as possible will help ensure all Missoulians have health care coverage.

“What we can do as a community and as a state, to make sure that the folks who lost their health insurance coverage can get covered again,” she says.

During a roundtable discussion at Partnership Health Center on Thursday, community partners came together to hear more about Cover Montana and offer perspectives on what their clientele needs.

Poverello Center Executive Director Jill Bonny said that many of the unhoused community does not realize they lost their Medicaid coverage until they are in the middle of a crisis.

Bonny said having resources for people to check in on their coverage at Missoula shelters would be helpful.

Bonny also said that it’s important that Cover Montana has appointment openings as often as possible, as many unhoused folks will lose the time or motivation to enroll if they have to wait an extended period of time to apply.

Missoula County Public Schools Academic and Community Services Director Barbara Frank said that Cover Montana must look to engage directly with kids and families, something that could happen through school screenings and pop-up clinics.

Another community partner was John Petroff, who works with the Missoula Fire Department Crisis and Intervention Team.

Petroff said his team works with a lot of mental health calls, but it’s hard to convince a person who doesn’t have health insurance to get help. Petroff said learning how to help these people enroll in Medicaid would be helpful for his team.

Many people who lost their Medicaid coverage believe it was because they are no longer eligible, according to SJ Howell, who works with Montana Women Vote.

Howell said 90% of those who believe they are ineligible, still qualify.

Overall, Cover Montana will use trainings and creative solutions to expand access to Medicaid enrollment. The lack of health care across Montana is a community issue that requires community solutions, according to Riutta.

“Access to health insurance coverage — Medicaid, Healthy Montana Kids — go far beyond health care, and really impact our community, and families across our community and our state,” she says.

“We’re thrilled to have partners here kind of talking about the importance of health insurance coverage in the work that they do — a lot of that is not health care, it’s social services — and we can sort of see the impact of coverage across the community," Riutta concluded.