Aug. 08, 2006                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

SCHWEITZER AND MORRISON ANNOUNCE 250 ADDITIONAL MONTANA SMALL BUSINESSES COULD RECEIVE HEALTH INSURANCE


      More Slots Available in Insure Montana
      Governor Brian Schweitzer and Montana State Auditor John Morrison announced today that an additional 250 Montana small businesses could receive assistance with their health insurance through Insure Montana -- the small business health insurance program designed to begin addressing the problem of the uninsured in Montana and launched in January of this year.
      “For thousands of working Montanans, affordable health care has been out of reach for far too long,” said Schweitzer. “It's a crisis seen across the country – especially in rural states. Here in Montana, this new plan is providing less expensive health insurance to thousands of Montana families. Over 7,500 Montanans will be able to afford health insurance because of it.”
      A rule change recently adopted by the Insure Montana board of directors has resulted in the additional openings in the program. Businesses with between two to nine employees are now eligible. The rule previously only allowed businesses with between two to five employees to be enrolled in the Insure Montana program.
      “We are pleased to announce that about 1,500 more Montanans can take advantage of this innovative, public-private health insurance program known as Insure Montana,” said Morrison. “By allowing people to buy into health coverage at a level they can afford, we’re making sure more Montanans receive the coverage they deserve. I urge folks to help us spread the word across the state about this opportunity.”
      Currently, more than 4,650 Montanans are benefiting from Insure Montana. Funded through a $1-a-pack cigarette tax passed by voters in the fall of 2004 and authorized by the 2005 Legislature, the measure was jointly requested by Governor Schweitzer and Auditor Morrison. The program was recently recognized by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners as one of three innovative programs undertaken by states to begin addressing the crisis of the uninsured.
      Administered by the State Auditor’s Office, Insure Montana offers two comprehensive health plans and provides incentive and assistance payments for both the employer and employees. It also reduces the cost of insurance by joining together businesses to form a purchasing pool. In addition, Insure Montana provides tax credits to small businesses that are currently providing group health insurance to their employees. Additional funding in the second year of the biennium has resulted in openings on both the purchasing pool side and the tax credit side.
      Based on recent statistics, 53% of Montana's uninsured population works full time for small businesses and 80% of small firms not currently offering insurance would do so if they could afford the premiums. This funding cycle, it is estimated that the program will cover at least 4,000 Montanans on the purchasing pool side and 3,500 on the tax credit side.
      For more information and eligibility guidelines, log onto the Insure Montana website at: www.insuremontana.org.