February 8, 2001
Contact: Lucas Hamilton
Proposed legislation would improve access to insurance
The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee will hear a proposal Friday to allow the Montana Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA) to reduce premiums using a sliding scale. Senate Bill 315, proposed by State Auditor John Morrison and sponsored by Sen. Eve Franklin of Great Falls, would make insurance more accessible for low-income people who qualify for MCHA coverage but can't afford it.
"One of my main goals as state auditor is to reduce the number of uninsured in Montana," Morrison said. "This bill takes a big step toward making that happen."
Health insurance is priced beyond the budgets of many Montanans. In 1999, 18.6 percent of Montanans did not have health insurance coverage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
MCHA provides comprehensive health insurance to individuals denied coverage by private carriers. High-risk individuals and those suffering from serious health problems are among those who would benefit from this plan.
Under Senate Bill 315, anyone whose income is below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, who meets MCHA's current eligibility standards, would qualify for the reduced premiums.
"MCHA is a wonderful program for people with high-risk health conditions," Franklin said. "The problem is that MCHA rates are unaffordable for many of those who qualify. This bill addresses that problem."
The association would be allowed to limit enrollment in the program based on available resources and establish a waiting list for people interested in participating.
"This bill would increase the number of people with insurance, thereby reducing the volume of health care costs subsidized by hospitals, insurance policyholders and federal programs," Morrison said.
The bill requests that a prior appropriation to MCHA, which was not used in the previous biennium, not revert back to the general fund. The association would use that money to fund the general operating costs of the program and is seeking federal funds to support the reduced premiums.
The hearing on SB 315 is 3 p.m. Friday in Room 317A of the State Capitol.
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