Health care

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."

GOP Medicaid Expansion Bill On Friday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 19, 2015

A new bill to expand Medicaid in Montana gets its first hearing in the state legislature tomorrow. Republican Ed Buttrey of Great Falls’ bill would expand the health program for the poor, elderly and disabled to an estimated 45,000 Montanans.

Another Medicaid Expansion Plan Introduced At The Montana Legislature

Mar 17, 2015
Sen. Ed Buttrey (R) SD13
Montana Legislature

The latest proposal to expand health insurance coverage for the working poor is scheduled for a legislative hearing Friday.

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk and Mike Dennison
Eliza Wiley

This week on "Capitol Talk", Sally, Mike and Chuck cover pre-school education's tough reception at the legislature, the infrastructure funding debate, Medicaid expansion passions, and concealed carry on campus.

"Capitol Talk," our weekly legislative news and analysis program, appears on Fridays throughout the legislative session. MTPR's Sally Mauk is joined by Lee Newspapers reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison.

Tune in to "Capitol Talk" on your radio every Friday during the session at 6:35 p.m. and again on Sunday at 11:00 a.m.
 

'Catastrophic Health Care Costs' Bill On Friday's Legislative Agenda

Mar 12, 2015
Montana Capitol
William Marcus

Expanding healthcare is on the agenda yet again at the Montana Legislature Friday.

Republican Representative Art Wittich of Bozeman is carrying House Bill 582, and says it’s a part of the Republicans' alternative plans to the governor’s Medicaid expansion.

The Montana House has narrowly approved an updated list of mandatory vaccinations for Montana school students; even though the Senate rejected the House’s attempt to add an exemption for "personal beliefs."

Billings Representative Kathy Kelker, a Democrat, said states that allow children to go unvaccinated because of their parents’ "personal beliefs" have seen tragic results.

"The states who have had it, particularly California, are the ones where we now see outbreaks of epidemics of childhood diseases, the most recent being measles."

TVMT

The House Human Services committee borrowed the old Supreme Court chamber for a hearing on Medicaid expansion that drew an overflow crowd and is expected to run into the evening.

Eric Whitney

Governor Bullock's bill to expand Medicaid gets its first hearing in the state legislature on Friday. Watching closely will be Montana's hospitals.

To understand why, drop by an emergency room at one of Montana's bigger hospitals, like Benefis in Great Falls.

This ER serves about a quarter of the state's population. And 10 to 12 percent of Benefis' patients can't afford to pay their bills. Last year, that added up to $36 million in unpaid bills, or about three times the hospital's profit margin.

Community Medical Center, Missoula, MT
Josh Burnham

Attorney General Tim Fox says he needs more time to analyze how $65 million from the sale of Missoula’s Community Medical Center should be used.

Fox approved the sale itself January 12. Still pending is Community’s proposal for where money from the sale should go.

"Because the proposal was submitted rather late in the process, we felt we did not have sufficient time to review that," said John Barnes, spokesman for the attorney general.

CC-BY-2.0

The acting director of veterans health care in Montana is on the defensive after Senator Jon Tester said the VA health center in Helena is temporarily closing its inpatient mental health unit.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington, Tester said, “staffing levels at the VA in Montana are at the point where it can no longer safely staff the eight bed acute inpatient section of the mental health facility at Ft. Harrison” in Helena.

Johnny Ginnity, acting director at Ft. Harrison says, that doesn’t mean the mental health ward is being closed.

Sen. Jon Tester (D) Montana
Courtesy photo

It's been eight months since the Montana VA had a permanent director and Senator Jon Tester says he's fed up with the delay.

Tester fired-off a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald this week calling it "completely unacceptable".

The Democrat says he only recently found out that a hire was imminent about three months ago. However,  the Office of Management and Budget found a "screw-up" that scuttled the process.

There are about three percent fewer Montanans without health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act. That’s according to University of Montana Economist Bryce Ward. He says the ACA is responsible for even bigger drops in the number of uninsured in other states.

"If the ACA stays around, we expect to continue to see the share of people without health insurance declining over the next few years."

Eric Whitney

A group of nine Montana state lawmakers has put out an alternative to Democratic Governor Steve Bullock’s plan to expand Medicaid. They call it the Healthy Montana Family Plan, and it aims to cover more people, without the long term expense of Medicaid expansion.

Montana CSI

Jennifer McKee from the office of the Montana Commissioner for Securities and Insurance talks with MTPR News Director Eric Whitney about the first tally of Montanans using Healthcare.gov to enroll in the Affordable Care Act.

    

Montana Legislature

A group of Montana Republicans have released their plan to improve health care and insurance coverage in Montana.

Stevensville Senator Fred Thomas says: “Improving our healthcare system is a far more complicated equation than simply expanding government insurance coverage. Any solution must be a comprehensive plan that does more than just provide health insurance through the Obamacare framework.”

You can see the proposal below.

Eric Whitney

The biggest employer in Park County is getting a new building. It's Livingston Health Care's new hospital. Hospital leaders say they need it to stay competitive with Bozeman and keep its $18 million payroll in town.

The big, steel skeleton is going up on Livingston's east side, just north of the Interstate. It's projected to be open in the fall.

Bren Lowe, Livingston Health Care's CEO, hass been giving a lot of tours of the construction site lately.

Jackie Yamanaka

Democratic US Senate Candidate Amanda Curtis says the contrast between her and her Republican opponent couldn’t be more clear than when it comes to issues on women.

Curtis held a noon time rally on the lawn outside the Yellowstone County Courthouse Wednesday.

Curtis often talks about her working class, blue collar roots, and contrasts that against her wealthy Republican opponent.

The high school math teacher from Butte says the differences couldn’t be more stark when it comes to women’s issues.

Montana Senator Jon Tester visited western Montana today. His trip included attending a health care summit in Charlo being put on by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

Before going there, though, he stopped by Montana Public Radio to talk about a number of issues, including so-called “country of origin labeling,” the law that requires meat and seafood to carry labels so consumers can know which country it came from. He spoke with News Director Eric Whitney.

I want to tell you a familiar story. A young man, we’ll call him Joe, he doesn't make a lot of money, has a toothache and needs to see a dentist, but doesn’t have dental insurance. In a lot of communities this guy is going to land in the emergency room, get some pain meds, maybe antibiotics, and then he’ll call all over town trying to find a dentist he can afford.

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