May 30, 2007                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton


      Boost in funding means more Montanans can receive insurance through the
      Montana Comprehensive Health Association
      Montana State Auditor John Morrison announced today that there are additional openings in the low-income, high-risk health insurance program known as MCHA. The coverage, through the Montana Comprehensive Health Association is for high-risk Montanans who haven’t been able to buy health insurance because of a serious health condition. A federal grant along with additional state funds allocated this legislative session has resulted in additional openings in the plan.
      “This pool is the insurer of last resort for more than 3,000 Montanans who have existing health conditions such as cancer, diabetes or other chronic illnesses that make purchasing insurance on the open market nearly impossible,” Morrison said. “The additional federal and state funds for the premium assistance program will help ensure that more low-income Montanans can afford this high-risk coverage.”
      The MCHA premium assistance program was one of three health-related programs outlined in initiative 146 passed by voters in the fall of 2002. The initiative directed a percentage of the state’s tobacco settlement to health-related programs on an annual basis. MCHA funding was increased this legislative session to $824,173 in fiscal year 2008 and $925,614 in fiscal year 2009 — up from about $550,000 per year previously. Also, a one-time federal grant of $729,875 was awarded to the MCHA last October, most of which is directed to the premium assistance program. 
      “I applaud Senator Max Baucus, Governor Schweitzer and the Montana legislature for increasing the funding for this important program,” said Morrison. “The price of this coverage can be out of reach. It’s imperative that this option remains available for lower income Montanans.”
      Anyone whose income is below 150 percent of the federal poverty level and meets the program’s eligibility standards, would qualify for the reduced premiums. For a family of four, 150 percent of the 2007 federal poverty level works out to $30,975. The association will be allowed to limit enrollment in the program based on available resources and establish a waiting list for people interested in participating. Based on the funding available, the MCHA board expects that approximately 50 additional Montanans will be able to receive assistance with their premium payments.
      “While high risk pools are not intended to solve all the problems of our health care system, they provide critical assistance, in the form of private health insurance, to those who are most likely to fall through the cracks,” said MCHA Board Member Maryetta Bauer. “This funding will allow the high risk pool to continue to play an important safety net function in Montana. As an MCHA board member representing the consumer interest, I am encouraged that our board has made expanding the premium assistance program a priority.”
      Populations most likely to benefit from the pools are the self-employed, employees of small business that don’t offer coverage and anybody who is having difficulty in obtaining coverage in the individual health insurance market.
      “Montanans interested in applying for the program can call my office at 1-800-332-6148. We have a team of insurance advocates on staff that can help folks figure out the application process,” said Morrison. In addition, folks can log onto or contact the MCHA program directly at 1-800-447-7828 ext 8537.
      About the MCHA
      Created in 1985 by the Montana legislature, the Montana Comprehensive Health Association is a nonprofit organization made up of insurers writing health care policies in the state. Membership of insurance companies in the association is required as a condition for doing business in Montana. MCHA provides comprehensive health insurance to individuals denied coverage by private carriers or whose individual health insurance premiums are more than 150% of average market rate. High-risk individuals and those suffering from serious health problems are among those who benefit from this insurance plan. Plans are administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana.
      The 1997 Montana Legislature created a new MCHA plan to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, federal legislation passed in 1996. This Act requires that individuals who lose employer group coverage have guaranteed access to individual coverage if they have at least 18 months of prior creditable coverage. The MCHA Portability Plan is the alternative plan that guarantees coverage for most individuals losing eligibility for group coverage.