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Healthcare

Healthcare news from Montana Public Radio.

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More than 47,000 Montanans have enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program state lawmakers narrowly approved last year. The state health department reported updated numbers to the legislative committee that oversees Medicaid expansion today.

Montana Insurers Propose Rate Increases From 2 - 23 Percent
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The number of Montanans without health insurance has dropped by half in the last year. That's according to State Auditor Monica Lindeen.

 Governor Steve Bullock projects Montana taxpayers could save about $25 million dollars because of the way it manages medical costs for its state employees.

The three health insurance companies that sell individual policies in Montana say they need to increase their prices significantly next year. They're asking Montana's Health Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen to approve average premium increases for individual health plans that range from 20 to 62 percent. In the small group market, the insurers are proposing premium increases of three percent to 32 percent. 

Medical marijuana sign.
Flickr user Laurie Avocado (CC-BY-2)

Medical marijuana advocates in Montana are running out of options to delay a state law that could shut down pot shops here in August. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it won't hear an appeal from the Montana Cannabis Industry Association over the 2011 Montana Marijuana Act.

HealthNet

Last month we reported on problems with a health care program called Veterans Choice. It was supposed to help veterans across the country get health care appointments more quickly, in the wake of the scandal at the VA in Phoenix that exposed veterans waiting months just to be seen.

The Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation have requested a meeting with Veterans Administration Secretary Robert McDonald in the wake of the director of the Montana VA announcing his resignation, effective July 8.

There are now five and a half weeks until Congress takes its two-month summer recess. One bill that Senator Jon Tester had hoped there would be action on by now still hasn’t advanced out of committee. It’s the proposed bi-partisan fix to the troubled Veterans Choice health care program.

Mineral County Hospital representatives say the hospital has not been paid for services delivered under the Veterans Choice program.
Courtesy Mineral County Hospital

Congressman Ryan Zinke says the nation can’t just throw more money at a widely criticized veterans’ health care program.

Insurers, Air Ambulances Would Consider Rate Negotiation

May 25, 2016
Two bills designed to help protect Montanans from unexpected and exorbitant air ambulance bills get their first hearings at the state legislature Tuesday.
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HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana health insurance providers and representatives of air ambulance companies said Wednesday they would at least consider negotiations and possibly binding arbitration as a way to set acceptable rates and prevent air ambulance patients from being shocked by their bills.

Lawmakers will study prisoner solitary confinement and meth and opioid abuse during the legislative interim as they begin to shape new policy proposals for the 2019 session.
Eric Norris (CC-BY-2)

Montana’s Board of Medical Examiners is learning more about how doctors treat pain and prescribe pain medicines as they grapple with the state and national crisis surrounding opioid painkiller abuse.

Many veterans are still waiting to see a doctor.

Montana Senator Jon Tester.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Legislation aiming to fix the troubled Veterans Choice healthcare program made progress in the Senate today.

BlueCross BlueShield of Montana has refunded over $1 million to thousands of Montana university students.

Veterans Choice, file photo.
Courtesy Veterans Administration

Sen. Jon Tester has introduced a proposed fix for the year-old Veterans Choice program.

"This is a big deal for veterans. It’s a big deal for the VA and I think [it’ll be] a big deal once we get it passed.”

A client bedroom at the Assessment and Stabilization Unit (ASU).
Steve Jess

More Montanans with developmental disabilities will be moving into community-based care under a plan approved today in Boulder.

Bob Mason and his dog Sophie.
courtesy

When Bob Mason decided to end his life with a self-inflicted gunshot, his pain helped him pull the trigger.

Mason died in January. He was 67 years old. His daughter, Shane Mieski, says her father had been without pain-killing drugs for about a week when he died.

Kathy Snook, Terri Anderson and Gary Snook waiting in Dr. Forest Tennant’s office in West Covina, California.
Corin Cates-Carney

Over the past two decades, the rate of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers known as opioids has quadrupled in the United States. Federal authorities say 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. Health care officials in Montana report that the abuse here is worse than the national average. But the casualties of the opioid epidemic are not all addicts and drug abusers.

Mineral County Hospital representatives say the hospital has not been paid for services delivered under the Veterans Choice program.
Courtesy Mineral County Hospital

This week we’re reporting on a year-old program for veterans that’s supposed to make it easier for them to get health care. It’s called Veterans Choice, and yesterday we heard widespread agreement that it’s not working as Congress intended. Frustration with Veterans Choice in Montana became evident in February, when Senator Jon Tester held 28 meetings across the state to get vets' feedback on it.

Veterans Choice, file photo.
Courtesy Veterans Administration

Two years ago news broke about a scandal at the Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix. Congressional investigators found that the hospital was covering up the lengthy waiting times that veterans faced trying to see doctors. There’s evidence that 40 veterans, maybe more, died while waiting for medical appointments.

In an effort to control prices on air ambulance rides in Montana, lawmakers are considering urging Congress to revise the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.
Christopher Ebdon (CC-BY-NC-SA)

An attempt to regulate air ambulance services supported by Democratic Senator Jon Tester struck out in the U.S. Senate Thursday.

In an effort to control prices on air ambulance rides in Montana, lawmakers are considering urging Congress to revise the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.
Christopher Ebdon (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Federal aviation laws up for review in the U.S. Senate could change the way states regulate air ambulances.

In an effort to control prices on air ambulance rides in Montana, lawmakers are considering urging Congress to revise the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.
Christopher Ebdon (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Montana policymakers looking to protect consumers from giant bills for air ambulance service are taking a close look at North Dakota’s attempt. North Dakota’s law was struck down by a federal judge last month.

Veterans Affairs logo
CC-BY-2.0

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is opening a Vet Center this fall in Helena. Unlike larger VA medical clinics, Vet Centers only counsel returning combat veterans and military sexual trauma victims.

Montana Public Schools have received a $100,000 grant to help health sciences programs in schools. The grant will focus on getting students in rural areas and reservations a clearer path to careers in health sciences.

Consumer Reports gave Montana poor marks for not using simple language to get more information about doctors.

Lisa McGiffert is the Director of Consumer Reports' Safe Patient Project. Her complaint is with terminology on the Montana Board of Medical Examiner website.

“The terms on that page are licensee search as opposed to something real simple like find your doctor or look up your doctor,” said McGiffert.

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

A Chippewa Cree woman was named leader of Montana’s new Office of American Indian Health today. Gov. Steve Bullock named Mary Lynne Billy-Old Coyote to head the office. She’s currently interim director of the Rocky Boy Health Board, and has 20 years of experience working in Native American health. She has also worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana and New West Medicare Health Services.

A new survey done by the University of Montana and Stanford University reveals some surprising opinions on health care in Montana. The statewide representative sample poll was done over landlines and cell phones in February in advance of a conference last week at UM.

Montana DPHHS

The special state committee set up to oversee Medicaid expansion in Montana got its first progress report since expansion began January 1.

"This is just incredible success we’re having," Marie Matthews with the state health department told the committee. "This program has already saved the state general fund about $3 million," she said.

Pills
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On Tuesday, the Montana Board of Medical Examiners indefinitely suspended the license of a Helena doctor they say overprescribed narcotics.

Dr. Mark Ibsen was found to have acted unprofessionally in his treatment of chronic pain patients. The Medical Board also said he failed to properly document patient medical records.

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