By Deborah Courson Smith Big Sky Connection
GREAT FALLS – Health insurance coverage is tied to geography in Montana.
A new report from the Center for Rural Affairs finds that people in the most rural counties are least likely to have coverage. Of the state’s 46 rural counties, in 28 – one in four residents don’t have a policy.
Steph Larsen, Montana assistant director of the Center for Rural Affairs, says it’s clear that rural residents face more barriers to coverage – mainly due to lower incomes since the businesses are often smaller or the people are self-employed.
“It’s not a fair thing to say that because of the way that you are employed, because of your occupation, you don’t have access to affordable health care.”
The report says it makes economic sense for Montana to sign on to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act – something the legislature will decide.
Larsen says if the state participates, the number of uninsured Montanans will be cut in half. She says the expansion won’t cost the state anything in the first few years, and then will cost the state up to 10 percent of the total.
Larsen adds the pay-off for getting more Montanans covered reaches beyond family pocketbooks.
“It’s great for the economy. It’s great for rural hospitals. Because the more people who are insured in rural communities, the stronger that health infrastructure is going to be for when you need it.”
There are concerns that the Medicaid expansion will become too expensive for Montana, and there are arguments against the program from those opposed to the Affordable Care Act.