CMS Extends Montana's Medicaid Expansion Waiver During Pandemic

The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) announced that Montana’s Medicaid expansion program, which provides health coverage to 90,000 Montanans, has been approved for continuation by the federal government.

This news is a result of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) extending the state’s current Medicaid expansion demonstration waiver for another year.

This allows the thousands of Montanans enrolled in the program to keep their health coverage in 2021, and will give CMS additional time to work through the approval of the program application based on legislation passed in 2019.  

Health care providers praised the news.

“During this time of uncertainty, all Montanans can feel secure in knowing that Medicaid coverage will be there for them if they need it,” said Dr. David Mark, MD, and CEO of Bighorn Valley Health Center. “As we all grapple with the economic strain of the pandemic, Medicaid expansion ensures that Montanans who’ve lost their jobs have health coverage, which is more important now than ever.”

While the state submitted the waiver request in 2019 as required by the legislation, the COVID-19 public health emergency has placed considerable unforeseen workload on federal regulators, who have been working with all 50 states on an unprecedented array of temporary regulatory flexibilities to equip the American health care system to deal with the pandemic. 

“Medicaid expansion has kept our doors open and kept us able to serve everyone in our community,” said CEO Cherie Taylor, Northern Rockies Medical Center, Cut Bank. “It has been critical to the financial viability of critical access hospitals like ours, and I can’t say enough how crucial it has been to helping us through this pandemic. If we hadn’t had Medicaid expansion in place before the pandemic started, our hospital might not be here now.”

State leaders point to the foresight of Montana’s legislature, whose actions ensured that Medicaid expansion would continue even if the state didn’t receive immediate CMS approval for every change made to the program in 2019.

In addition to ensuring Medicaid will continue while federal regulators work through approving Medicaid expansion in Montana for a longer demonstration period, the state has already implemented the changes the legislature made to the program that don’t require federal waiver approval, including updates to copayments, the eligibility process, and the program’s funding. Federal waivers are required for the state to implement certain program variations or flexibilities, including aspects of Montana’s Medicaid expansion program.

In addition, Montana has the only workforce development program in the US that has been proven to increase labor market participation among Montanans with Medicaid coverage by 6%. Medicaid expansion has helped make Montana an even better place to live, work and do business while better positioning the state for economic growth. Every year, Medicaid expansion adds $600 million in economic output to Montana’s economy.

It has fueled 9,715 new jobs, $793 million in associated wages and $30.5 million in new state tax revenue.  Additionally, Medicaid expansion is expected to generate $1.6 billion in personal income and $2.1 billion in economic output or new sales during its first five years.


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