By Deborah Courson Smith Big Sky Connection
MISSOULA – Co-ops have been a long agricultural tradition in Montana to help farmers and ranchers boost their buying power and profits. Now that model is being applied to health insurance for all residents. There are informational meetings scheduled today in Missoula and Kalispell about the Montana Health CO-OP, which was selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to build a nonprofit, member-owned insurance cooperative.
Chris Christiaens, legislative and project specialist at the Montana Farmers Union, said that not only will premiums be affordable for everyone, but there are incentives to keep costs down.
“The physicians, the hospitals and those of us who are covered under this kind of a plan will all work together to make sure that there are patronage refunds at the end of each year,” he said.
About 200,000 Montanans currently do not have health insurance. Christiaens said that if the Montana Legislature decides to set up a state health insurance exchange, MHC will coordinate with that offering, since MHC plans would also be offered on the federal health insurance exchange set up under the Affordable Care Act. The Farmers Union is a partner in promoting the CO-OP.
Christiaens says people are eager to sign up. Enrollment is to begin in October, with coverage becoming effective next January. Because it’s part of the federal exchange, premiums are based on a sliding-fee scale, and even people who work part-time are eligible.
“So, if someone is in those lower-income levels – let’s say $16,000-$17,000-a-year income range – their premiums would be $55 a month.”
The Missoula meeting is from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the City Library. The Kalispell meeting is 7 to 9 p.m. at the Flathead Electric CO-OP. Additional meetings will be held around the state through April, and are scheduled in Bozeman, Butte, Havre, Glasgow, Miles City, Billings, Lewistown and Great Falls. Dates and times will be announced later.
MHC was one of eight co-ops nationwide awarded federal loans to set up shop.