Guest opinion: Most vulnerable Montanans need access to Medicaid

2013-04-01T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Most vulnerable Montanans need access to MedicaidBy MATT KUNTZ The Billings Gazette
April 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The phone in our NAMI Montana office brings daily evidence from across the state of how the onset of serious mental illnesses such as clinical depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia leads families into poverty. The symptoms of these conditions are disabling and effective treatment is required to overcome symptoms and maintain employment.

Decline into poverty

Montana’s health insurance system is not equipped to prevent the mental illness-induced decline into poverty with which many of our friends, family members and neighbors struggle. At the onset of a serious brain condition, overwhelming symptoms prevent many people from working the kind of jobs and hours required to receive employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. Private health coverage for someone with a pre-existing health condition is expensive and usually outside the reach of someone struggling to find work.

Current government-funded health insurance programs do not provide coverage until the person is fully disabled and in poverty. At that point, it is very difficult for a person to get a career and life back on track. The vicious cycle is only more vicious if unpaid medical bills led to a bankruptcy along the way.

The Montana Legislature soon will make the final decision whether or not to increase the number of Montanans who can access Medicaid to get the care they need. This legislation will expand Medicaid to ensure that Montanans who live with serious mental illnesses and their families do not have to hit complete poverty before they can access health care.

The leadership of NAMI Montana understands that this is a difficult decision for our legislators. Yet expansion of Medicaid is essential for Montanans affected by these conditions and their families.

Essential to recovery

Medicaid would help Montanans who live with serious mental illness and are struggling to make ends meet access the medical treatment essential to their recovery.

The eligibility criteria would range from about $15,500 for a single person to $32,500 for a family of four. A single person who makes just over $1,290 a month would be eligible for Medicaid. Without this bill, it is hard to imagine how someone who lives with a serious mental illness at that income level would ever be able to afford health insurance. The cost of their policy would almost certainly be at least $600 per month. That leaves precious little left for rent, groceries, gas, and emergencies.

Government programs like Medicaid all have their own flaws and challenges. However, expanded Medicaid coverage will make it possible for many hard-working Montanans to receive treatment for their mental illnesses and recover to rebuild their lives. It is an opportunity that would not be possible without this important legislation.

 

Matt Kuntz of Helena is executive director of NAMI Montana.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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