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State health care officials meet with Tribal Health staff

By B.L. Azure
THHS PIO

THHS Director Kevin Howlett informs a trio of Montana health care officials about the Tribal Health intern program. From left are: Lesa Evers, Howlett, Mary Dalton and Kelly Williams. (B.L. Azure photo) THHS Director Kevin Howlett informs a trio of Montana health care officials about the Tribal Health intern program. From left are: Lesa Evers, Howlett, Mary Dalton and Kelly Williams. (B.L. Azure photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — Monday was a wicked day to be traveling in western Montana — a good day to stay put and off the roads. However, the crotchety Old Man Winter blustery climes didn’t stop a trio Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services and Medicaid officials from making the journey from Helena over McDonald Pass to the Mission Valley to meet with Tribal Health and Human Services personnel.

“The meeting is part of the continuing relationship we’ve established with state health care officials. It is relationship that we want to continue to build upon,” said THHS Director Kevin Howlett. “I invited them here to discuss Medicaid issues and its associated programs.”

The invitees included Mary Dalton, State Medicaid director; Kelly Williams, DPHHS Senior and Long Term Care Division; and Lesa Evers, DPHHS Tribal Relations manager.

The fodder of the discussions focused on the health care provisions available to the tribal people and tribal heath care providers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare.

Howlett gave the state officials an overview of Tribal Health, its mission and its goals to become the health care provider of choice for eligible care as well as a creator of employment.

The issue of long-term health care under the ACA and how Medicaid fits into the issue was discussed.

Kelly Williams said the ACA’s provision for long-term care services — nursing homes and assisted living facilities — provides for easier access to them for tribal people on Medicaid.

Montana Medicaid Director Mary Dalton responds to a query from a THHS staff member. Kelly Williams of the DPHHS Senior and Long Term Care Division is on the left. (B.L. Azure photo) Montana Medicaid Director Mary Dalton responds to a query from a THHS staff member. Kelly Williams of the DPHHS Senior and Long Term Care Division is on the left. (B.L. Azure photo)

“A tribe [health care department] could pay the bill for nursing home care (for its eligible service population) and then bill us for that at a 100 percent match,” Kelly said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Howlett concurred with the win-win aspect, saying there are many good things in the ACA for tribal people. The hard part and long road over that is to get tribal people and tribal governments to embrace it and get tribal people to sign up for insurance under the ACA. For the most part the premiums for tribal people would be minimal or none existent due to waivers based on income.

“I think the Affordable Care Act will sell itself once people learn more about it and understand the process for signing up,” Howlett said.

Other topics discussed included the cumbersome Medicaid application process, the WIC program software problems, alcohol and drug problems, care for developmentally disabled people, and Medicaid (none) expansion, among other things.

“I think the failure of the legislature to expand Medicaid put health care out of the reach of a lot of people, vulnerable people,” Howlett said about the Republican controlled Montana Legislature’s voting down Medicaid expansion opportunity. “But I still hold out hope that it will eventually be adopted by the legislature.”

All in all Howlett said the meeting went well.

“We had a good productive discussion about a variety of issues,” Howlett said. “The state is willing to engage and work with us to help get our people the (state and federal health care) services they are eligible for.”

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