Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Th e d i r e c t o r o f t h e s ta t e Department of Public Health and Human Services was in Havre Thursday to spread the word about and encourage people to apply for a new program that will increase health benefits for Montana’s youth and children. Director Anna Whiting Sorrell, speaking outside of the Bullhook Community Health Center Dental Clinic in the Atrium Mall, said the voters provided a mandate for the implementat ion of the Heal thy Montana Kids program when they approved it by a more than 70-percent margin in the 2008 election. “We want to give thanks to the Montana voters when they spoke clear and loud to us that they wanted children covered,” she said. The program melds together the state’s children’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, while increasing the eligibility limits. The proposed change was an initiative on the ballot in November 2008. After some wrangling in the 2009 Legislative session some legislators, primarily on a party-line split, opposed funding the program due to decreasing projections on state revenue the funding was approved late in the session. The program increases the income Eligibility limit formerly 175 percent of the federal poverty line to 250 percent of the poverty line, which the health department says will add about 29,000 Montana children to whom is eligible. Whiting Sorrell said the new program should increase the number of Montana children with access to health benefits to about 100,000. Under the new guidelines, a family of four is eligible if they earn $55,125 or less a year, and families may be eligible even i f they exceed the l imi t . Deductions, including for the number of employed parents and for child care expenses, can adjust the limit. For a family of two, the general limit is an annual income of $36,425 and for a family of eight, the limit is $92,525. A key to the program is making sure people apply, Whi t ing Sorrel l said. Her department is conducting an extensive outreach program, including sending letters and holding events like the press conference in Havre and attending fairs and events to provide information. The outreach is planned to continue through, at least, November, including coming to a Blaine County vaccination clinic Wednesday, Oct. 14, and the Bur l ington Nor the r n Health Fair in Havre Nov. 13-14. The department also is teaming up with community partners to help with the enrollment drive. Cindy Smi th, execut ive director of the Bullhook health clinics, said Bullhook is one of those partners, and staff members now are receiving training for helping to enroll children. Responding to a question from the audience, Whiting Sorrell said a main focus also wi l l be enrol l ing Nat ive American children, both on reservations and off of them. The program is simple for the ci t i zens of Montana, Whiting Sorrell said. After they apply the application process also has been simplified children enrolled in the program will receive a Healthy Montana Kids card. The family will use that card when they receive medical services for the child covered, and the staff members at the Department of Public Health and Human Services will do the work on figuring which program will make payment toward the services, and providing those payments. Applications for the prog r am a l s o a r e s imp l e : Applications can be downloaded via the Internet, filled out online and printed or printed and filled out by hand, then mailed back for processing; can be requested by telephone to be mailed out to the applicant; or picked up at various locations. Whiting Sorrell said the application form also is much easier. “Everybody knows how compl icated the Medicaid application is,” she said, adding that the new form drops from the 12 pages of that application to a six-page form. Where the program can be used depends on who is in the provider network, Whiting Sorrell said, adding that the list of providers is available online. Whiting Sorrell said her department is working to increase the number of dent ists who wi l l accept the Healthy Montana Kids plan, although Smith said the plan wi l l be accepted at bot h Bullhook’s dental clinic and its c l ini c e a s t o f No r the r n Montana Hospital. Several local providers including the Hi l l County He a l t h De p a r tme n t a n d Northern Montana Hospital’s facilities will accept payment through the program. The Sweet Medical Center in Blaine County, Liberty Medical Center and Clinic in Chester and the Big Sandy Medical Center and Hospital also will accept payments through the program.