Health professionals tell lawmakers about priorities

A collection of healthcare professionals in Helena are outlining priorities for state lawmakers.

The group met over breakfast Tuesday.

Proposed Medicaid Expansion will likely dominate the Legislative session beginning in January.

The attendees of this early morning breakfast chose from large pans of scrambled eggs, tater tots and bacon. Sitting in a large conference room in St. Peters Hospital, they talked healthcare.

The hospital sponsored the event along with the County Health Department, and other health organizations like tobacco use prevention groups.

They took turns speaking to two Democratic lawmakers; another Democrat and Republican weren’t able to make it.

When the mic comes around to Helena Democratic Senator Christine Kaufmann, she makes clear her focus for the legislature.

“The biggest impact of anything we do this session is to cover uninsured people,” she said, referring to the decision the legislature will make on whether or not to expand Medicaid coverage.

Medicaid Expansion is a provision of the Federal Affordable Care Act. An upfront payment of $5 million by the state would trigger federal funds to cover about 80 thousand new Medicaid patients in Montana.

Democratic Lawmakers are expressing support but many Republicans are not on board yet. Some GOP legislators have characterized Medicaid Expansion as an unreliable and expensive overreach of the federal government.

It’s a divisive discussion, and Helena Democratic Representative Jenny Eck believes it will be at the forefront of the legislative health debate.

“It’s a big choice we have to make as a state and it’s not a choice we can ignore,” Eck said, “But I do think we have to remember there’s a lot of ways to address our healthcare crisis.”

And that’s where most of the attendees at the breakfast came in, not talking about Medicaid expansion but a whole host of other things. Mental Health Services, the Childrens Health Insurance Program, and so on. A lot of the discussion revolved around wellness, which is what St. Pete’s Radiologist Dr. Jeff Georgia was talking about. He started by walking over to the breakfast pans.

“Turns out the cafeteria food is fat laden,” he said, “we’ve got bacon and eggs and tater tots.”

There is also a bowl of fruit, but Dr. Georgia says he’d like to see the healthy food dominate a breakfast like this. He says every dollar invested into programs promoting wellness and preventive care saves around seven dollars in healthcare costs for patients later.

“The problem in the Legislature tends to be that the things that are the most dramatic get the most funding and sick people with coronary artery disease, that’s a dramatic presentation,” Georgia said.

Lewis and Clark County Health Officer Melanie Reynolds agrees.

“You know, that is always a challenge for the public health community, for us to talk about something that will have benefits way down into the future,” Reynolds said.

But she says those types of bills will still be a priority.

“We’re looking at legislation that makes the healthy choice the easier choice for citizens,” Reynolds said.

A priority that will have to likely stand in the shadow of Medicaid Expansion.

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