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The 2015 Legislature has the opportunity to improve the health of thousands of Montanans by providing health insurance to low-income individuals who cannot afford private coverage. However, misconceptions regarding access to and the quality of care for beneficiaries of the state’s Medicaid program threaten to derail any progress toward meaningful expansion of coverage.

MHA and the Montana Medical Association represent hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, home health agencies and hospices. Our members deliver the same standard of quality care to every Montanan, regardless of their insurance status.

We present the following facts to set the record straight.

Myth: Doctors are less willing to accept Medicaid patients than privately-insured patients.

Fact: One hundred percent of physicians employed by hospitals accept Medicaid.

Additionally, all specialists holding exclusive contracts with hospitals and all physicians employed by our many federally qualified health clinics and other public facilities accept Medicaid. The myth that most physicians won’t see Medicaid patients stems from a 2013 survey of physicians in only 15 of the nation’s largest metropolitan cities. The study is not applicable to Montana and does not account for our state’s high acceptance rate.

Myth: Medicaid doesn’t improve overall health; beneficiaries are less healthy than privately-insured individuals.

Fact: Medicaid improves individuals’ overall health by increasing access to timely, preventive and appropriate care.

Medicaid is designed to provide health insurance coverage to individuals who cannot afford private coverage. Medicaid beneficiaries have less income and are often in poorer health than privately-insured individuals for several reasons, including environmental and social factors, nutrition and other health behaviors and demographics. A study published by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that low-income adults who were previously uninsured and gained health insurance coverage through a state Medicaid expansion have increased access to care and overall health care utilization.

Myth: Medicaid beneficiaries receive lower quality of care than individuals covered by private insurance.

Fact: Montana health care providers are committed to providing the highest quality care to all patients.

Medicaid and privately-insured patients receive similar quality of care. A study comparing the quality of care received by nonelderly adults covered by Medicaid and private insurance found that an individual’s health behaviors – including a willingness to seek routine care and adhere to treatment recommendations – are key determinants of quality of care and health outcomes.

Myth: Being covered by private insurance is better than being covered by Medicaid.

Fact: Having health insurance is much better than being uninsured.

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In general, uninsured people are less healthy than those with insurance. Individuals enrolled in Medicaid are significantly more likely than the uninsured to access routine and preventive care, and significantly less likely to avoid needed medical or dental care due to cost concerns. Providing Medicaid to all low-income Montanans will result in a healthier and more productive population.

Myth: Medicaid beneficiaries have trouble accessing care.

Fact: Medicaid beneficiaries and the privately insured have comparable access to care.

Studies show children are similarly likely to have had a primary care visit in the past year whether they were publicly or privately insured.

When health and socioeconomic differences are taken into account, adults enrolled in Medicaid do as well as privately-insured adults when it comes to accessing a routine or specialist visit, getting certain cancer screenings, or obtaining a flu vaccination.

The evidence is clear. Increasing the number of Montanans with health insurance coverage, including Medicaid, will create healthier Montana communities by improving access to quality and affordable health care.

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Dick Brown is president of MHA, An Association of Montana Health Care Providers. Jean Branscum is executive vice president of the Montana Medical Association.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.