By Michael Heins
As a recent transplant from southeast Washington state (Walla Walla), I was disappointed in Montana's lack of a state-supplemented medical coverage plan for lower-income adults.
The Washington State Basic Health Plan provides a basic comprehensive medical plan for people who normally might not be able to afford the high costs of medical coverage. For me, it was a godsend while I attended the state college in Olympia, Wash. I very rarely used the plan, but it made me feel responsible for my own medical coverage.
The basic health plan's monthly payments are based on the individual's incomes, so while I was unemployed, it was as low as about $19 a month, and while I was working for the state last summer, it cost me around $71 a month. It all depends on the plan you choose and your location in the state.
The tax revenue for the Washington Basic Health Plan is generated from a tax on alcohol and cigarettes. This makes good sense to me.
I would have preferred having medical insurance through an employer, but it seems that many companies keep their workers at part-time, so they don't have to provide benefits.
The price of an individual plan varies on the person's age, but individual plans are still expensive for any aged adult.
Montana has a rate of 19.6 percent of people who are not covered by medical insurance.
"This ranks Montana as the fifth worst in the nation for medical coverage; the national average is 16 percent," said Chuck Butler, representative from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana.
"Montana does provide coverage for children of low income families through the Department of Health and Human Services in a program called Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP).
"Currently, the plan has 3,028 children enrolled and has enough money to enroll 10,000 children in the state. Blue Shield is the only insurance carrier involved in this program."
There are 97 children who are covered under the state plan for low-income families in the Hill County area.
This still leaves out many adults in the state who cannot afford basic health coverage.
Currently, the funding for the children's coverage comes from the state and federal governments.
Any expansion into coverage for low-income adults would most likely be funded through the state and federal governments, as well more taxes.
It would be great to have such a program for Montana's lower-income adults, but the money has to come from somewhere and this could be just the start of the controversy.
Washington has a much larger tax base with a population of more than 5 million compared to Montana's population of more than 800,000.
But you also have to consider that even with more revenue, the state still has a larger low-income population than Montana.
I would prefer a program through the private sector by possibly giving Montana insurance carriers tax incentives to provide medical plans for lower-income adults.
Although this does not seem to be happening and almost 20 percent of our state's population is without medical insurance.
Somebody has to pay the bill when an uninsured person is hospitalized and cannot afford to pay the bill.
The costs are shifted for everyone, including the insurance companies and most likely ends up as higher insurance premiums for those who are fortunate enough to have coverage.
Somebody still ends up paying the bill, and I feel that it would be better if we had some way to provide some type of basic health plan for those in need.
A tax on cigarettes and alcohol would be an appropriate way to finance a basic health plan for Montana's lower-income residents.
The first step is for people to contact their state representatives and let them know whether they would support a state supplemented medical plan for low-income adults.
Something needs to be done to reduce the number of Montana residents who don't have insurance.