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Opinion: DPHHS writes better rule for Medicaid

Opinion: DPHHS writes better rule for Medicaid

Gazette Editorial

Like a shaft of sunlight between storm clouds, a bit of good news on state policy pierced the gloom in Helena this week.

One of the budget changes made April 1 in the Montana Medicaid program has been modified to be simpler and less burdensome for poor, elderly and disabled people who depend on Medicaid for their prescription medicines. For people with serious illnesses and low-income elderly taking multiple medicines, the April change dramatically increased out-of-pocket costs. Many complained that they were forced to choose between groceries and medicine.Prescription cost-sharing plan The latest cost-sharing plan, effective Aug. 1, still requires Medicaid recipients to pay more than they did before April 1, but their share is $1 or $5, depending on whether it's generic or brand name and nobody has to pay more than $25 a month.

The Department of Public Health and Human Services staff and Director Gail Gray listened to people and came up with the improved plan. Gray personally telephoned some Medicaid recipients last week to ask their opinions about the new prescription proposal. Most reaction was positive.

The new rule should prevent drug co-payments from overwhelming Medicaid patients, many of whom subsist on $550 monthly income. However, other recent human services cuts still stand. DPHHS still has budget woes, it's still working to figure out where all the required cost-saving will come from and it's planning other changes to make cost-sharing less burdensome for the poor.

"We have been listening to people," said Maggie Bullock, who supervises the state Medicaid program. "We never wanted it to be onerous for the recipients."

We commend DPHHS. The department must keep listening to the people it serves while meeting budget challenges.Taylor's hearing diverts legislature from official business Just what is an "informational hearing" in the Montana Legislature?

Some unfortunate, uniformed citizens might think it's a forum for the public to speak on one of the 80-plus pieces of legislation proposed to the emergency special session that has but two weeks to balance the state budget.

But alas, no citizen has a right to be heard at an "informational hearing" scheduled at the whim of a legislative committee chairman. No official legislative business is transacted. The chairman's invited guests speak in the Capitol; the committee spends its time listening to the scripted hearing. Those with opposing views are shut out.

We can all thank state Sen. Mike Taylor for illustrating this waste-of-time prerogative on Monday. He held a two-hour "informational hearing" to affirm his views on business tax policy. Other committee chairmen have scheduled informational hearings on wolves, welfare and homeland security.

We call on Taylor, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, and his legislative colleagues to stick to hearings on legislation where the rules of public participation apply. They can hold "informational hearings" on their own time.Last words The last three words of Wednesday's editorial on trade authority were inadvertently deleted during production. The sentence should have read: It's a change eight years past due.

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