Today in Montana: Big Win on Medicaid Expansion

Today, Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed SB 405 into law, making Montana the 29th state in the country to expand health coverage for low-income residents through Medicaid expansion.

Thanks to this bill, up to 70,000 Montana residents who are currently uninsured will be eligible for quality, affordable health coverage for the first time. It’s a big victory for Montana families and communities. But it didn’t come without a fight.

To an outside observer, the odds may not have looked good going into the 2015 legislative session. Medicaid expansion had already failed to clear the Montana Legislature once before. And the Montana chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP is the flagship organization in the Koch network) was throwing all its weight behind ginning up opposition and trying to scare moderate lawmakers away from the negotiating table.

But the Healthy Montana Campaign, a statewide coalition of 10 core partner organizations working in support of Medicaid expansion, was undeterred. Through three years of disciplined organizing, the coalition sent a clear message: when it comes to quality, affordable health care, we’re in it to win it. And that’s exactly what they did.

The Montana Organizing Project (MOP), an affiliate of the Alliance for a Just Society, played an integral role in the organizing that made this victory possible, mobilizing its base of members and leaders across the state, including in rural and eastern Montana, to join the fight.

MOP and HMC partners knew it would require a large-scale grassroots effort to overcome the Koch money on the other side. So they started early. And never quit.

In 2014, when MOP ran a nonpartisan civic engagement project focusing on low-income women voters that logged 19,000 phone calls, 3,500 doors knocked, and more than 3,000 “I pledge to vote” cards. They not only boosted turnout in their target universe – they also built a list of Medicaid expansion supporters, and prepared those supporters to take action.

As the 2015 session got underway, MOP mobilized its supporters to turn out at rallies, testify at legislative hearings, make calls to key legislators, and write letters to the editor.

Leaders in the Campaign expected an onslaught of opposition from Americans for Prosperity. But at the first legislative hearing, the Healthy Montana Campaign rallied 250 supporters, including businesses and statewide organizations. Americans for Prosperity turned out fewer than a dozen people in opposition.

Through this show of strength in numbers, partners in the HMC highlighted the difference between their grassroots support from Montana families and AFP’s astroturf opposition.

That set the tone for the debates to follow. And when AFP tried to run town hall meetings in the home districts of swing legislators to drum up opposition, they got out-smarted and out-organized: the targeted legislators showed up, won the crowds over, and turned them against AFP.

The final deal on Medicaid expansion in Montana isn’t perfect. It includes some provisions the HMC strongly opposed – like mandatory premiums (up to 2 percent of the recipient’s income), a co-pay of up to 3 percent, the ability to remove people who earn above 100 percent of the poverty level and fail to pay their premiums from the program, and a sunset provision.

But the Campaign won on its two most important goals: making sure the final deal accepts all of the federal funding available for Montana, and ensuring that everyone earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level (about $16,000 for a single person) will be eligible. That means up to 70,000 low-income Montanans who’ve had nowhere to turn will be eligible for quality, affordable health coverage thanks to Medicaid expansion.

The passage of Medicaid expansion will also help small, rural hospitals across Montana – hospitals that may otherwise have faced closure due to funding shortfalls – to remain solvent, preserving access to health care for rural communities and preserving good-paying health care jobs in those communities.

The work for quality, affordable health care in Montana isn’t over, of course. While today’s signing of Medicaid expansion is a great stride in expanding health coverage, there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure getting health coverage translates into getting health care, especially for women, Native Americans, and rural residents. MOP and the HMC partners look forward to engaging in the Waiver process to ensure that as many Montanans as possible get covered and get on the path to quality care.

There’s a lot more organizing and more fights ahead to make health care reform fulfill the promise of eliminating race and gender-based disparities in health access and outcomes in Montana. The Montana Organizing Project will be in the thick of that work.

 

 

Montana Without Senator Max Baucus

 

How do we want to handle his replacement?

 

Max Baucus assumed the position of US Senator from Montana on December 15th 1978. For 35 years he has been making decisions that affect the lives of not only people from Montana, not only people from the United States, but people from around the world.  The Senator has made many friends, to be clear on this issue he has grown quite influential during his tenure. But he made just as many enemies with his votes. For progressives in Montana, his tenure has been, as they say, a mixed bag.

Now he is leaving the Senate. Continue reading “Montana Without Senator Max Baucus”

Not Your Ordinary Tea Party

During the week of August 15th, Americans for Prosperity took their pro-oil, anti-worker, Running on Empty Tour to Montana. The tour was an attempt to blame high gas, electricity and food prices on President Obama. They aren’t happy with the President because he hasn’t given in to their corporate agenda to exploit America’s natural resources, gut critical environmental regulations and endanger the health of our communities. The Montana Organizing Project welcomed them with counter-demonstrations to highlight how Big Oil corporations are buying politicians and the government. Watch their mad tea party action here! Continue reading “Not Your Ordinary Tea Party”

Medicaid Makes a Difference Report

Congress is locked in a budget battle that’s grabbed round-the-clock media attention. Lost in the coverage are the real stakes in the debate, including the lives of the more than 50 million people covered by Medicaid, which is now in the budget-cutting cross-hairs. More than half of these 50 million are people of color. Racial disparities in health coverage have already reached alarming proportions. Cuts to Medicaid would make these disparities even worse, taking a toll on the real lives of real people.

The experiences and perspectives of some of these real people are captured in Medicaid Makes a Difference: Protecting Medicaid, Advancing Racial Equity, from the Alliance for a Just Society and 14 members of its Health Rights Organizing Project, a network of grassroots organizations across the country committed to the fight for health equity.
 Continue reading “Medicaid Makes a Difference Report”

Montanans Stop Drastic State Budget Cuts

Last week, on April 28, the 62nd Montana Legislative Session came to a close. The session was a contentious one, featuring some of the worst budget cut proposals in state history. Faced with devastating cuts to health and human services, education, and public employee jobs and salaries, members of the Montana Organizing Project responded by rallying, telling their stories, making phone calls and writing letters to their legislators throughout the session. MOP and its partners tirelessly made the case that Montanans deserve better. And, when the session was over, $150 million in crucial funding — three-quarters of the budgets cuts — was restored. Continue reading “Montanans Stop Drastic State Budget Cuts”

Montanans Rally for Budget Courage, Not Cuts

On Friday, April 1st, 2011, 1,500 Montanans flooded the Capitol lawn to voice their objections to sweeping and hurtful cuts in the Montana state budget. “Courage, Not Cuts!,” was their rallying cry. The  “No Fooling with Our Future Rally” was presented by  Montana Organizing Project leaders and activists, who partnered with many groups within the Partnership for Montana’s Future.

Continue reading “Montanans Rally for Budget Courage, Not Cuts”

Health Rights Organizing Project Plans Next Steps Toward Equitable Health Care

Nearly a year after the passage of health care reform, the Alliance for a Just Society convened members of its Health Rights Organizing Project, a national collaboration of grassroots community organizations working on health care, to reflect on that victory and to develop next steps in the long march towards an equitable health care system.  This was the first face-to-face meeting of the coalition since health reform was made law in March 2010. Continue reading “Health Rights Organizing Project Plans Next Steps Toward Equitable Health Care”

Montanans Demonstrate Unity Against State Budget Cuts

Over 400 Montanans from across the state, all the way from Ashland to Missoula, converged on the State Capitol in Helena on Monday, February 21, for the first annual Citizens Day at the Capitol, hosted by Alliance for a Just Society affiliate the Montana Organizing Project.

Since the state legislative session began in January, Montana lawmakers have been slashing jobs and funding for public services even though the Governor’s budget clearly shows that there is no sound  financial reason for doing so. Members from Native tribes, Indian People’s Action, unions, churches and community groups came together as one to demand that critical services stay completely funded, that the state tax system be restructured and made more equitable, and that federal health care reform be properly implemented, ensuring that all Montanans have a safe and secure future.

All day long, the halls of the capitol building bustled with working people from all four corners of the state who came to tell  their stories of how cuts to health care, education, and public safety programs would adversely affect their families and communities. They presented legislators with Protecting Montana’s Future, a book filed with the stories of ordinary Montanans which amplifies the voices of small business owners, Native Americans, students, public servants, and senior citizens throughout the state and shows the need for a healthy public infrastructure.

Citizens Day culminated in a mass rally on the snowy capitol steps with members of the Montana Education Association and Montana Federation of Teachers. The crowd of over 400 declared their support for a new way forward in Montana, one that involves “reversing the cuts and restoring the future.” Moving testimony from firefighters, faith community, small business owners, progressive legislators, veterans groups, and teachers riled up the crowd, many of whom held signs proclaiming why they were there and expressing solidarity with the workers and protesting at the capitol in Wisconsin.

The Capitol truly belonged to the citizens of Montana on Monday, and they all walked away with the pledge to keep coming back until their legislators get the message.

NWFCO Affiliates Work for Fair Tax Reform

For nearly ten years, the wealthiest Americans have been getting a free ride in the form of tax cuts, tax breaks, and loopholes. This fall, Congress is expected to take up discussions around the Bush Tax Cuts and NWFCO affiliates in Montana, Oregon, and Washington are working with the Americans for Responsible Taxes to ensure that the current tax cuts for top 2% of Americans (individuals earning over $250,000 a year) expire, and that tax cuts for the middle class are made permanent. Continue reading “NWFCO Affiliates Work for Fair Tax Reform”

“This is a Movement, not a Moment” — Scenes from the Montana Organizing Project Founding Convention

photo of a Native American woman at MOP founding convention

This post was written by Amanda Harrow, Montana Small Business Program Director

An energized diverse group of people came together this past weekend in Butte, Montana, to found the Montana Organizing Project. Seventy people from labor unions, faith communities, non-profit service organizations, and other interested communities around the state joined in committing to work for social, economic, and racial justice in Montana. Continue reading ““This is a Movement, not a Moment” — Scenes from the Montana Organizing Project Founding Convention”