Montana Democrats are calling for an immediate injection of $20 million into the state’s health care system, saying it is about to collapse.
Rep. Ed Stafman, a Democrat from Bozeman, said the money would be distributed tomorrow if he could.
“I can’t stress enough how difficult the situation is with our mental health system, adults and children,” Stafman said.
Lawmakers are debating how much Medicaid should reimburse health care providers this session, after a study found that providers were underpaid by tens of millions of dollars. But Stafman says donors can’t wait until next year, that they need help now.
Stafman is picking up House Bill 248, which would provide enough funding that the study recommended to be increased in fiscal year 2023 with a remaining $2 billion in federal funds. It will take effect as soon as the governor signs it.
The Montana Medical Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana chapter, Benefis Health System and Shodair Children’s Hospital all spoke in support.
No one spoke in opposition, but lawmakers expressed concern about how the money would be cut and whether the administration would work quickly enough to replace the money.
What started with a budget deficit in 2017 was exacerbated by the epidemic and the shortage of staff, which led to a significant decrease in the health system.
According to the state’s Department of Health, Montana lost 70 youth home beds in 2022 alone.
Gov. Greg Gianforte has proposed a budget plan that will fill almost one-third of the payments made to the service providers along with an additional $25 million in just one fixed period over the next biennium.
The goal of Stafman’s bill is to begin distributing funds before May 15. Stafman says the state will not spend the entire $20 million because a portion must come from state sports dollars. The representative says he plans to introduce a second bill later that would provide more immediate funding to nursing homes and long-term care facilities around the state.