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Expanded Medicaid coverage launches Friday in Montana; 20,000 si - KXLH.com | Helena, Montana

Expanded Medicaid coverage launches Friday in Montana; 20,000 signed up already

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Starting Friday, low-income Montanans covered by Montana’s expanded Medicaid program can start using their coverage – and 20,000 people have already signed up.

“Everyone deserves access to quality health care, and for those who have never been able to afford it … they’ll be given that chance through the (Medicaid expansion) program,” says John Doran, spokesman for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, which is administering the program.

Doran said anyone approved as eligible and who has received their I.D. card from Blue Cross can have their care covered as of Friday – from a broad network of providers.

Every Montana hospital and nearly 5,000 physicians and other health-care providers are in the provider network, to offer care for people covered by the expanded Medicaid, he said.

Also, it appears sign-ups are proceeding at or above estimated levels.

The Bullock administration estimated earlier this year that 23,000 eligible people would sign up for coverage by the end of June 2016.

Enrollment had reached 20,000 as of Thursday, just two months after sign-up began, state health officials said.   

“It really shows that this is a plan … that Montanans are eager to take advantage of, and that they are willing to take personal responsibility for their health care,” said Jessica Rhoades, director of intergovernmental affairs for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The program is open to anyone earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,200 for a single person and $27,700 for a family of three.

The coverage is not free; participants are charged a premium of 2 percent of their annual income. They also must make small “co-pays” for some services, and, if they have substantial financial assets, pay much higher premiums.

The federal government pays the cost of medical bills for the program through most of 2016, and then gradually reduces its share to 90 percent by 2020. The state will pay the remainder.

State health-care officials estimate that $430 million in federal money will flow into the state the next two years, to pay bills for those covered by the expansion. If enrollment exceeds estimates, that amount will increase.

Doran said premium bills are being sent out already. If someone doesn’t pay, they won’t get kicked off the program immediately – or, perhaps, at all.

The state Department of Revenue plans to collect unpaid premiums by deducting the money from participants’ income-tax refunds.

Doran also said it’s likely the program will see a rush of medical bills in the first few weeks and months, as people who’ve been without coverage will get long-needed care.

“We know there will be some pent-up demand, and we anticipate that folks who need the care the most will go receive it as soon as possible,” he said.

Those hoping to sign up for coverage under expanded Medicaid have several options: Online, at www.healthcare.gov or https//.apply.mt.gov; at local health clinics or hospitals, or with help available through www.covermt.org,; or via toll-free telephone, at 1-800-318-2596.

There is no deadline for signing up; anyone eligible can do it at any time.

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