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Nearly 70,000 Montanans don’t have any option for affordable health care because the state hasn’t made the choice to extend coverage through its Medicaid program.

The state could make affordable health care coverage available to these Montanans at any time, with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the costs until 2016 and no less than 90 percent after that. These are Montana tax dollars that, unfortunately, are going to other states.

We need to bring those dollars home.

Who are the residents Montana is leaving behind?

Young adults who are just getting started. Approximately 11,000 people 19 to 24 years old don’t have an option for affordable coverage. They don’t qualify for Medicaid and they make too little to get help with coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace. In Montana, Medicaid doesn’t cover adults unless they are disabled, over 65, or very-low income parents with dependent children. These young adults may still be in school, they may have a job without health coverage, and they may be thinking about starting their family. They don’t have an option for affordable health care.

Parents working to raise their children. Parents with dependent children who make between 52 percent and 100 percent of poverty — $10,289 and $19,790 a year for a family of three — don’t have an option for affordable health coverage in Montana. They make too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to get subsidies through the marketplace. Even though they are struggling to raise a family, they don’t qualify for help with health coverage in Montana.

Parents whose kids are grown. Montanans ages 45 to 64 don’t have an option for affordable coverage in Montana. They may be parents whose kids are grown and have left home, they may be working at jobs that don’t offer health coverage, or they may have an illness or injury that keeps them from working. They don’t qualify for Medicaid but aren’t old enough to get Medicare. They don’t have an option for affordable health care in Montana.

Working adults. Almost 45,000 adults could benefit if Montana extended health coverage through Medicaid expansion. Seventy percent of the individuals who stand to benefit if Montana extends health coverage are working. They include fast food workers, waiters and waitresses, truck drivers, laborers, home health aides, child care workers, or housekeepers. They work hard, but their employers don’t provide insurance, enough hours, or high enough pay to get people the health care coverage they need.

Veterans and their family members. Approximately 4,000 veterans and their family members could benefit if Montana extended health coverage. Not all eligible veterans live close enough to a VA facility for VA coverage to be practical. VA coverage often does not include family members. These veterans and their family members sacrificed but many don’t have an option for affordable health coverage in Montana.

Montana lawmakers in Helena have an opportunity to extend health coverage giving young adults, parents, veterans, and working families’ access to affordable health care.

With the legislative session halfway over, time is running out to act.

Sue Hansen, of Dillon, is president of the Montana Public Health Association and public health director for Beaverhead County.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.