Guest opinion: Made in Montana ideas ensure ACA will work for families

2014-03-23T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Made in Montana ideas ensure ACA will work for familiesBy JOHN MORRISON The Billings Gazette
March 23, 2014 12:00 am  • 

One of my favorite Montana entrepreneurs is Wheat Montana’s Dean Folkvord. I’m not sure whether Dean voted for Barack Obama, but I doubt it. The thing about Dean though is he has a sharp pencil and he does what’s best for his business and his customers. That’s how Wheat Montana blazed the trail for value-added business here in the Treasure State. A couple of weeks ago Dean figured out that he could save bushels of money while getting his employees better health coverage by signing them up through the Obamacare “Marketplace” at They chose coverage from the Montana Health CO-OP, a new Montana based non-profit insurer that puts consumers in charge.

“This was a great move for us,” Dean says. He should know.

Lower insurance costs

I’ll second Dean’s endorsement. My law firm moved our staff to the Marketplace this year too, also choosing the CO-OP. We added two spouses and a child, our deductible went from $5,000 to $1,700, and our premiums went down by 35 percent. One legal assistant and his wife just had their first baby. Their family coverage costs $187 per month.

The deadline for 2014 “open enrollment” under the Affordable Care Act is March 31. Many folks are now trying to decide whether to join the 23,000 Montanans who have already signed up. Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen has held 60 events in 30 towns across Montana and launched the “Ask Away” program at, to help people understand the Affordable Care Act. Monica’s team is answering calls and emails and has certified hundreds of “navigators,” insurance agents and application counselors to help guide people, as well. They will tell you that more than 80 percent of those now on board are receiving tax credits that reduce their premiums.

ACA opponents say they resent the heavy hand of the federal government. They may not know that Montana has had its own big hand in the ACA. The Obamacare “subsidies,” for example, are actually sliding refundable tax credits, an idea pioneered by our successful and popular small business health insurance pool, Insure Montana, which I outlined for the U.S. Senate in 2005 testimony. In fact, Insure Montana and the ACA subsidy provisions were both designed by Montanan David Kendall. Commissioner Lindeen, meanwhile, has chaired the national committee of insurance regulators that dealt with many ACA issues. And of course, our own Sen. Max Baucus, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, was a principal author of the ACA.

Big Sky CO-OP launch

Montana influenced health care reform in another important way. The Montana Health CO-OP was one of the first seven Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans in the country and Montanans formed the National Alliance of State Health CO-OPs, which helped launch 23 CO-OPs across the country. Montana health insurance experts Richard Miltenberger and Jim Edwards of Mountain West Benefits ginned up the idea for MHC and NASHCO and provided the office support for both as they got off the ground. What started on the back of a napkin at Bert and Ernie’s in Helena now provides affordable coverage to nearly 10,000 Montanans and over 300,000 Americans. What’s more, overall premiums in CO-OP states are 8.4 percent lower than non-CO-OP states because of the added competition, saving consumers and taxpayers a billion dollars in year one alone.

Thirty minutes or so on could save you hundreds of dollars per month, protect you from crushing medical costs and provide access to better health care for you and your family.

Former Montana State Auditor John Morrison co-founded the Montana Health CO-OP, the National Alliance of State Health CO-OPs, Insure Montana and Healthy Montana Kids. He is a partner in the Helena law firm Morrison Sherwood Wilson Deola PLLP.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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