Health care

Health officials have recorded twelve cases of flu in six Montana counties: Yellowstone, Gallatin, Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Beaverhead, and Broadwater. Karl Milhon with the Department of Public Health says Montana's flu season typically doesn’t begin until October.

Flu vaccine is available at Missoula’s city-county health department.
James Gathany (PD)

The Missoula City-County Health Department has confirmed several cases of seasonal flu in Missoula County. Four other Montana counties have also confirmed flu cases.

Montana State Senator Diane Sands.
Courtesy Maureen and Mike Mansfield Center, University of Montana

Montana lawmakers are wondering how to track the effectiveness of nearly $20 million being injected into the state's mental health care system this year.

An Interim Committee Monday heard positive feedback on the funding package. But health care providers say they're not sure what data to collect to demonstrate whether new and expanded programs are successful.  

The Director of Montana’s Medicaid program expects the state to offer expanded Medicaid coverage at the start of the New Year. Mary Dalton told state lawmakers Monday morning that her staff is working at "breakneck speed" to get all the paperwork filed.

Courtesy Photo

NOTE: This post has been edited on 8/19 to clarify information about disenrollment from Medicaid related to not engaging in work or job training programs. 

Montana is holding public meetings this week to get input on its Medicaid expansion plans.

As the state prepares to ask the federal government to accept its version of Medicaid expansion, one critic of the proposal wants to make sure the state is telling the whole story.

Medicare Turns 50 But Big Challenges Await

Jul 31, 2015
Harry Truman's application for Medicare
Courtesy of Truman Library

Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, has come a long way since its creation in 1965 when nearly half of all seniors were uninsured. Now, the program covers 55 million people, providing insurance to one in six Americans. With that in mind, Medicare faces a host of challenges in the decades to come. Here’s a look at some of them.

Five Challenges Facing Medicaid At 50

Jul 31, 2015
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill creating Medicare and Medicaid at the library of former President Harry Truman, who was in attendance, on July 30, 1965.
Courtesy of Truman Library

A “sleeper” provision when Congress created Medicare in 1965 to cover health care for seniors, Medicaid now provides coverage to nearly one in four Americans, at an annual cost of more than $500 billion. Today, it is the workhorse of the U.S. health system, covering nearly half of all births, one-third of children and two-thirds of people in nursing homes.

Bryce Ward, the director of health care research at the University of Montana’s BBER, talks with Eric Whitney about the impact Medicaid & Medicare have on Montana.
Emily Proctor

Today is the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid. Right now, nearly one in five Montanans gets health care from Medicare, and the state is poised to expand Medicaid to tens of thousands more people next year.

To get a sense of how important the two federal health programs are to Montana, and some idea of where they’re going in the future, I talked to Bryce Ward, the director of health care research at the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Kathy Schaefer, regional director of women's health for Providence shows one of the new labor and delivery rooms at St. Patrick hospital in Missoula.
Eric Whitney

Missoula’s St. Patrick hospital invited the media to see its new family maternity center that opens Monday. Women’s Health Director Kathy Schaefer showed off one of the hospital’s seven rooms where moms will deliver babies.

Health centers like Missoula's Partnership Health Center hope Medicaid expansion will bring more financial certainty.
Josh Burnham

Montana’s legislature said yes to Medicaid expansion this spring, but the state’s expansion plan still needs approval by the federal government.

Today, the state made the details of its expansion plan public, and is giving the public 60 days to comment on the plan before sending it to the White House.

U.S. Supreme Court
Flickr user: Marty Stone (CC-BY-NC-2)

The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies for people to buy health insurance means nothing really changes in Montana’s health insurance market. And that’s pretty big news.

Susan Cahill says she had over 400 regular patients that came to her for general family practice medicine.
Corin Cates-Carney

When Zachary Klundt broke into and vandalized All Families Healthcare in Kalispell, in March 2014, he destroyed the only clinic providing abortions in the Flathead Valley.

Now, over a year later, the clinic remains closed, and the building is now used to help people file taxes.

After a three day sentencing hearing, the case involving the vandalism and closing of the Flathead Valley’s only clinic to provide abortions came to an end today.

Twenty four year-old Zachary Klundt received a 20-year sentence with 15 years suspended for destroying All Families Healthcare clinic in Kalispell. Klundt will also pay the clinics’ owner, Susan Cahill and other victims over 600,000 dollars in restitution.

Volunteers stand ready to check in the expected 600 visitors at this year's Project Homeless Connect in Kalispell
Corin Cates-Carney

 [Update - 06/18/15:  This is the 5th annual Project Homeless Connect in the Flathead, not the 6th year as we said in an earlier version of the story.]

Hundreds of people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless got some welcome assistance at the Flathead County Fairgrounds Wednesday.

Gov. Bullock was joined by tribal leaders from across Montana as he signed an executive order creating a state office of American Indian Health.
Courtesy Office of the Governor

The lifespan of Montana’s Native Americans is twenty years shorter, on average, than others in the state.  Montana Governor Steve Bullock is launching an effort to close that gap by finding and fixing the shortcomings of the health care system for the state’s Indian population.

Senator Daines' office

In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Montana Senator Steve Daines lambasted President Obama for what he says are huge increases in the price of health insurance in Montana, but he didn't get the facts exactly right.

Montana’s insurance commissioner says she’s not surprised that health insurance companies are asking for rate increases next year of more than 20 to 30 percent. But, she says, those are just requests, and it’ll be at least a couple of months before the actual rates are known.

Two Medicaid Expansion Opponents Named To State Oversight Committee

May 29, 2015

Governor Steve Bullock and Legislative leaders named their picks for the 9-member panel that will oversee the roll-out of Medicaid coverage for Montana’s working poor. The oversight committee includes two opponents of Medicaid Expansion.

Corin Cates-Carney

Public health officials want more people to take the risk of concussions youth sports more seriously.

On Tuesday night, Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s Save the Brain Project tried to get the word out at Somers Middle School.

Fewer than 10 people showed up.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
Courtesy photo

Senator Jon Tester says the Veterans Administration’s new Choice Card program got off to a  “shaky” start. The Choice Card is a new program that lets veterans use private medical care if their nearest VA facility is too busy or too far away.

Called the Global Burden of Disease study, the monumental effort to understand how we live and how we die has at its center the brilliant, controversial economist and physician Christopher Murray, who has developed an entirely new way of discovering and comparing the worldwide toll of both the things that kill us and those that diminish the quality of our lives. His goal: to enable all of us to live longer and better lives.

An estimated 22 million Americans act as caregivers for someone with a chronic medical condition.  Typically, it’s a son or daughter taking care of an aging parent. It can be rewarding, but often it’s also stressful and draining, especially for caretakers who neglect to take care of themselves.

For the second time in two years, a Missoula hospital is entering a joint venture with a hospital in Billings. Last year, Billings Clinic and a for-profit partner bought Missoula Community Medical center. The new joint venture announced this week isn’t a merger, but it does have Missoula’s other hospital, St Patrick, joining with St. Vincent hospital in Billings.

Montana is making progress toward transitioning some elderly and disabled people out of nursing homes into less restrictive settings. Delegates at the Governor’s Conference on Aging got an update on the nationwide program.

Montana health care providers are paying close attention to a second case of measles that was confirmed this week in Spokane.

Barrett Hospital

Two hospitals in Montana have earned 5-star ratings in patient satisfaction from Medicare. Those hospitals are Barrett Memorial in Dillon, and Great Falls Clinic Medical Center.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester and Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald are on a two-day tour of the state, visiting VA facilities in Helena, Missoula, and Billings.

Tuesday morning they were at Fort Harrison in Helena. McDonald says it’s the 120th VA facility he’s toured since taking over the troubled agency last July. 

McDonald and Tester sat down with about one hundred veterans and active service members, along with representatives of a range of interest groups, for a round-table discussion.

Veterans' Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is hearing a range of concerns about his agency’s performance on a two-day tour of VA facilities in Montana.

With Senator Jon Tester at his side, VA secretary McDonald listened to representatives of various groups, from mental health advocates to the American Legion, spell out what the VA needs to do to better serve the thousands of veterans across the state. He said the fact that Montana’s VA Health Care System went without a permanent director for eight months is a symptom of the problems his agency is facing.

William Marcus

The issue of health care was in play again today in the Montana Legislature. On the day when three Republican health-care proposals were voted down on the floor of the Montana House, yet another proposal got its first hearing in the Senate Health Committee.

Hacking Rural Medicine

Most of Montana’s hospitals are small and rural. And these are hard times for small town hospitals. The National Rural Health Association says about 300 rural hospitals are in danger of having to close in the next few years.

Monica Bourgeau is an executive with a federally funded project to help Montana hospitals adapt to the rapid changes in healthcare and survive.

"Rural healthcare is really facing a lot of kind of new and unique challenges right now."