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Healthcare

Healthcare news from Montana Public Radio.

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Montana Capitol, Helena.
Mike Albans

This week on "Capitol Talk": Democrats and Republicans are on a collision course over the state budget. The quickly dissipating spirit of cooperation and non-partisanship at the Legislature. The Republican and Democratic rift over infrastructure projects. And the growing number of candidates, both inside and outside the legislature, for Ryan Zinke's soon-to-be-vacant seat.

A graph from the Montana Budget and Policy Center's New Report
Montana Budget and Policy Center

If Congress and the Trump administration repeal the Affordable Care Act, 142,000 Montanans could potentially lose their health insurance coverage.

That’s according to a new report from the Montana Budget and Policy Center.

Montana Insurers Propose Rate Increases From 2 - 23 Percent
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There's a new effort underway in the state to better connect hospitals, doctors' offices and other health care providers. Like, through the internet. That's not really happening much now, and it's frustrating to doctors like Michael Vlases with Bozeman Health:

At a meeting convened by the Montana Medical Association, a health information technology expert from Oklahoma talked about how his state created a system to easily share patient data.
Eric Whitney

A lot of the major players in health care in Montana got together today to work on sharing patient data digitally.

At a meeting convened by the Montana Medical Association, a health information technology expert from Oklahoma talked about how his state created a system to easily share patient data. That isn't happening much in Montana because privacy laws forbid simply emailing health records, among many other reasons.

More than 60,000 Montanans now have health insurance because of the HELP Act, the Medicaid expansion program narrowly passed by state lawmakers in 2015. The oversight committee in charge of reviewing that program met in Helena on Tuesday to check in on the Medicaid expansion. 

John Goodnow, chair of the oversight committee, says because of the HELP Act, a lot of uninsured Montanans now have coverage: 

Montana Capitol dome, Helena.
William Marcus

Montana’s Medicaid expansion program got a progress report today from an oversight committee of lawmakers and health care professionals. While the state’s uninsured rate continues to drop, the job services aspect of the HELP Act isn’t doing as well as supporters had hoped.

Job Service officies statewide, like this one in Kalispell, are offering special help to new Medicaid recipients
Eric Whitney

Medicaid expansion barely passed Montana's Legislature last year. One of the reasons it was able to get enough Republican votes is because it included a component to encourage Medicaid recipients to get jobs, or better-paying jobs, so they could get off of Medicaid and buy their own health insurance.

Tuesday afternoon, a legislative oversight committee is taking a look at how that work component is going.

Ida Follette(r) and her husband Darrell Follette speaking about the suicide of their daughter Chelle Rose Follette, aged 13, at their home. Taken Feb. 2011, Poplar, MT on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
Mike Albans

Montana’s suicide rate is nearly double the national average. In the last two years, more than 550 Montanans killed themselves. Twenty-seven of them were adolescents.

The Montana Department of Veterans Affairs is hosting a town hall-style meeting Thursday night in Helena. 

"The event is open to the public, so any veteran or family member, or member of the general public that just wants to learn a little more about what the VA provides are welcome to join us that evening,” said Mike Garcia, Public Affairs Officer for the Montana VA.

Montana VA Appoints New Permanent Director

Oct 28, 2016
New Permanent VA Director Dr. Kathy Berger
Courtesy of Veterans Administration

The woman who has been interim director of the Montana Veterans Administration Health Care System since June was named permanent director Friday.

St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula.
Courtesy St. Patrick Hospital

In 2015, the Montana Hospital Association enthusiastically backed Medicaid expansion in Montana. A big reason was that in the first half of the year, they gave away nearly $71 million in free, or “charity” healthcare to people who had no health coverage.

After the legislature narrowly passed Medicaid expansion, Hospital Association President Dick Brown says, "the actual expectation was that charity care would go down, because a lot of the individuals who are now on Medicaid were receiving care at no cost to them, because they couldn’t afford it."

Flu activity in Montana since last October
Montana DPHHS

Five cases of flu have been confirmed in Missoula and Lewis and Clark Counties. These are the first flu cases of the season in Montana.

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Half a dozen health care systems in Montana are sharing more than $700,000 in grants to make mental or behavioral health care easier to get.

The Montana Healthcare Foundation says it's making the grants to support better healthcare for people who have a combination of medical problems and mental illness and/or addiction. It plans to award more than $3 million to the initiative over the next two years.

  The suicide rate in Montana is nearly twice the national average, and for years, has ranked among the highest in the U.S.

As part of the University of Montana’s Brain Initiative, internationally recognized psychiatrist and researcher Dr. John Rush will speak in Missoula on Wednesday. He’ll deliver a public lecture on why effective treatment for suicidality and depression is still elusive for so many.

Barbara Dryden, center, and Richard Blank, to her left, tell Governor Steve Bullock about the challenges family caregivers face Monday at Missoula Aging Services.
Kim Hutcheson, Missoula Aging Services

Governor Steve Bullock and Democratic State Senator Diane Sands say the state legislature should boost spending on assistance programs for the elderly by $1.6 million.

They made the pitch at a visit to Missoula Aging Services Monday. There, Bullock and Sands heard from people who’ve used the kinds of assistance they want to expand.

Mary Lynne Billy-Old Coyote is the director of Montana's Office of American Indian Health.
Courtesy Montana DPHHS

In Montana, the life expectancy for Native American people is 19 to 20 years shorter than for whites. The median age at death for Native men here is 56. It's 62 for Native women.

Those statistics, in part, motivated Governor Steve Bullock last year to create a new position in the state health department: Director of American Indian Health.

Veterans Advocate  Joe Parsetich joined Governor Steve Bullock and other dignitaries in Great Falls Sept. 15, to launch an outreach effort encouraging veterans to look into enrolling in Montana's newly-expanded Medicaid program.
Eric Whitney

Governor Steve Bullock says he's making a special effort to reach out to Montana's veterans to encourage them to look into Medicaid health coverage. In Great Falls, leaders of healthcare, veterans and civic groups joined him in doing so Thursday, Sept. 15. 

The Montana Board of Regents is poised to approve a proposal to help nurses with an associate degree (ASN) earn their bachelor of science nurse degree (BSN).

David Trost, president and CEO of St. John’s Lutheran Ministries in Billings, says registered nurses with an ASN have the skills to be excellent nurses.

He says the additional education helps with the transformation taking place in health care.

Montana health insurance market breakdown.
Courtesy Montana Commissioner of Securities Insurance

State Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen says the health insurance premiums one company is charging in Montana next year are, “unreasonable,” and that those proposed by two other companies were too low and needed to be adjusted upward.

Billings Clinic launched a pilot project to help rural primary care providers deliver mental or behavioral health care to their patients.

“Montana is at the epicenter of a mental health crisis,” says Dr. Eric Arzubi, chair of the Psychiatry Department at Billings Clinic.

He says there aren’t enough psychiatrists, so it falls upon primary care providers in rural areas to help their patients who are struggling with mental and behavioral health issues.

Governor Steve Bullock announcing a new healthcare reform initiative in Missoula Monday at Western Montana Clinic.
Eric Whitney

Montana has been invited to participate in a new phase of health care reform that some big players in the healthcare industry here say should save significant money. Governor Bullock made the announcement at St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula Monday morning.

Sen. Jon Tester
U.S. Senate

Montana lawmakers are pushing forward to check the high medical costs passed on to patients by some air ambulance and insurance companies. But U.S. Senator Jon Tester says getting support from Congress is a hard sell.

Montana Capitol, Helena.
William Marcus

A legislative committee today has agreed to sponsor two bills in the next legislative session related to air ambulance service in Montana.

Health insurance companies selling individual policies in Montana say they have to raise their prices next year. But the federal government says it won’t be as bad as the headlines suggest. The Obama administration says most Americans don’t have to worry about possible spikes in premium rates next year.

Eric Whitney

There's something unusual about how kidney dialysis is done in Helena.

Nationwide, more than 400,000 Americans have kidney disease so bad that they need regular dialysis – meaning they have to connect to a machine for several hours at least three times a week to clean their blood of toxins.

“They have to come at a certain time, so it's very scheduled, very regimented, and their time is not their own,” says Dr. Robert LaClair, a nephrologist, or kidney specialist at St. Peter's hospital in Helena.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ new veterans healthcare representative says she brings a unique perspective to the job.

Mike Albans

Across the country, and in Montana, more and more people are having the kind of terrifying experience that Michael McNamara did.

“I was shooting up in a bathroom in Seattle. At a theater. Everything turned black. There was no white light. There was no friends or family waiting for you. I basically died. I overdosed on heroin.”

Tribal Health officials for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes announced on Monday that the over-the-counter drug PlanB will be provided at several locations on the reservation without a prescription.
BGTP (CC-BY-SA-3)

The emergency contraception pill known as Plan B is now available to any female of any age on the Flathead Reservation. Tribal Health officials for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes announced on Monday that the over-the-counter drug will be provided at several locations on the reservation without a prescription.

Commissioner of Securities & Insurance Monica Lindeen.
Eric Whitney

If you want to know why health insurance companies in Montana are asking for big price increases on some of the policies they sell here next year, there are some easy answers – but they only tell part of the story.

Gov. Bullock signs the Medicaid expansion plan into law on April 29, 2015 at the captiol. The bill's sponsor Sen. Ed Buttrey, and supporter Stephanie Wallace look on.
Steve Jess

Backers of Montana’s seven-month-old Medicaid expansion say they’re pleased with the first set of financial data released this week.

State figures say enrollment as of July is nearly double initial projections, at 47,399 of the 25,000 who were expected to enroll by now.

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