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I-155 seeks to expand kids’ health insurance

Resource type: News

The Associated Press State & Local Wire |

by AMY BETH HANSON Montana voters are being asked to support a measure to fund health insurance for up to an additional 30,000 children. Initiative 155, the Healthy Montana Kids plan, seeks to set aside an estimated $22 million in state funding each year to expand eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program as well as help families pay premiums to add their children to employer-sponsored plans. “There’s no opposition to it,” said Kristina Davis, director of the Montana office of the Children’s Defense Fund, which is backing the measure. “The biggest danger to it not being passed is a lack of awareness, a lack of understanding what (the program) is.” The $22 million in state money would come from an insurance premium tax paid by companies that do business in the state. The money currently goes into the state’s general fund. For each dollar the state spends, the federal government will match it with over $3, Davis said. Davis said the 2007 Legislature planned to pass a similar measure, but she said it fell through the cracks. “This is just Montana stepping up and taking advantage of what already is in place,” Davis said. Under I-155, the Healthy Montana Kids plan would include Montana Medicaid and the current Children’s Health Insurance Plan, which provides insurance coverage for nearly 17,000 children in families with incomes up to 175 percent of the federal poverty level. It would expand coverage or give premium assistance to children in families with incomes of up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $50,000 for a family of four, Davis said. “In Montana, we have a lot of people who work but are still not making enough money to pay their premiums,” Davis said. “This program will pay the premium for the kids to put them on that private insurance.” The voter information pamphlet includes an argument against the measure calling it “welfare for those that do not need it,” that it would add to the federal deficit and would spend state money that might better be spent on other priorities. State Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, was one of three lawmakers asked to write the argument against I-155. The lawmakers said the escalating costs of treating unhealthy and chronically ill adults is a much bigger concern than insurance coverage for middle-class children. Esp said the $22 million would be better spent to receive matching Medicaid money to help prevent or treat stroke, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.