Lt. Governor talks healthcare, other issues facing Montana
Lt. Governor Angela McLean said the governor is committed to making sure healthcare is provided to 70,000 hard-working Montanans.
Included in that number who would benefit under the proposed Healthy Montana Plan are about 9.500 veterans, McLean said during an interview at the SCN office this week.
According to a recent press release from the governor’s office, Montana has the highest percentage of uninsured veterans in the nation.
The governor’s office describes the Healthy Montana Plan as “an innovative, uniquely-Montana alternative that will expand Medicaid coverage, reduce health care costs, and increase access to quality health care across Montana.” The plan is a public-private partnership that would use public funds and private insurers.
Montana currently sends about $2 million each day to other states that have expanded Medicaid through federal taxes that are not recouped, McLean said.
McLean said Healthy Montana would create about 12,000 new jobs in Montana, and bring about $1.6 billion per year in revenue to the state. This is a conversation that makes sense, she said.
McLean said those on the right argue that Montana would end up shouldering the bill for expanded Medicaid. While it is true that Montana would eventually need to pay 10 percent of the cost of expanded Medicaid, she said, the Healthy Montana bill included a trigger that would end the program if the federal government did not hold up to its end of the bargain.
She said there has been a lot of out-of-state money come into this conversation. This out-of-state money has funded attacks on moderate legislators perceived to be open to the conversation, she said. McLean said we need to get dark money out of Montana.
During six hours of recent public testimony about the Health Montana Plan, more than 125 people spoke in favor of the bill while only 12 were opposed, McLean said. The legislature killed House Bill 249 in a party-line vote earlier this week. McLean said the governor is still committed to making this happen during this legislative session.
The cost of uncompensated care for rural hospitals is huge, McLean said. Rural hospitals are in jeopardy if we do not expand Medicaid, she said, adding that uncompensated care costs are also shifted to those who do have medical insurance which raises their insurance premiums.
This is a problem that has a solution, McLean said. Healthy Montana is the single best way to get coverage to 70,000 Montanans and keep rural hospital’s doors open, she said.
SMART Schools Initiative
McLean developed the Montana SMART Schools initiative to help schools reduce energy usage. The SMART acronym refers to Saving Money and Resources Today.
Seventy five schools signed up to participate in the program.
McLean said the initiative allows students to lead the way in energy conservation, recycling, and creating a healthy learning environment. The initiative is an effort to save money for schools. The savings can then be used for things that matter to students, McLean said.
The initiative has received national attention, McLean said.
Montana SMART Schools is a competition across the state with three available categories: Energy Challenge, Recycling Challenge, and Green Schools Challenge. The winners will be announced in April.
Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee
McLean chairs the Montana Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee. The committee is composed of representatives from Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), and Disaster and Emergency Services (DES). Committee members meet monthly and sit at the table to discuss drought and water issues in Montana.
The committee reviews reports from each participating entity about recent moisture levels and precipitation. The group is very diligent about paying attention to moisture levels and what it means to Montana, whether drought or flood, McLean said. The committee watches and talks about the impact.
McLean said the committee talks about how it can best make sure agriculture and the lives of citizens are not interrupted.
Last summer McLean and others from the committee flew over the Musselshell river during the flooding and were able to see how the river had rechanneled. Such events are significant for irrigation and for farmers who count on the river for crops, she said.
Labor-Management Advisory Council
McLean also chairs the Labor-Management Advisory Council, a group designed to provide for an organized discussion of workers’ compensation policy.
The council is comprised of representatives of employers, workers, and a non-voting subcommittee of other stakeholder groups. McLean said union leaders come to the table with managers in the council.
Two bills that are now before the legislature are very important, McLean said.
Senate Bill 259 concerns workers’ compensation reform. Currently an assessment of three percent is made on all workers’ compensation claims. This assessment funds safety awareness measures across the state. McLean said this effort has made Montanans safer in the workplace.
SB 259 would increase the claims assessment to five percent from the current three percent. We need to have this happen to keep safety measures moving forward in the state, McLean said.
House Bill 413 would allow creation of a state-based occupational safety and health administration. Under this bill the legislature would enable the state to move forward with creation of the state-based administration.
McLean said it would be best if we had a state-based occupational safety and health administration rather than a federal administration.
Montana is one of only eight states without publicly funded pre-kindergarten for four-year-olds. Governor Steve Bullock’s proposed Early Edge program would address this, McLean said.
“We think it is long overdue,” McLean said.
Early Edge would create publicly-funded voluntary pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds through a public-private partnership.
Some school districts in Montana do offer pre-kindergarten to some students, McLean said, but Early Edge is an opportunity to provide pre-kindergarten to all students in Montana. Montana students without access to pre-kindergarten are competing with students from more than 40 other states. If we can get at gaps earlier, McLean said, we can close them.
McLean also said there is a strong correlation between pre-kindergarten and high school dropouts, incarceration, and general success. She said she would rather see us invest in students earlier rather than later.
Business leaders are leading the pre-kindergarten conversation in Montana and the entire country, McLean said. Pre-kindergarten is one of the best strategic investments to grow the economy, she said. The conversation about pre-kindergarten makes sense to schools and businesses, McLean said.
Montana Main Street
The Montana Main Street program is an effort to grow and strengthen communities, McLean said. As part of the initiative, more than 700 outdated rules have been removed or reviewed, she said.
McLean said Main Street Montana is all about public-private partnerships. Interested communities and businesses can reach out to the Main Street Montana office to learn more about this initiative. McLean said it is magnificent how it has been rolled out.
Montanans are counting on us to move the dial and do it quickly, McLean said. The governor is committed to growing the economy and creating jobs, she said.