Local Montana Task Force on Universal Health Care Presents Action Plan

The Task Force on Universal Access to Health Care in Lewis and Clark County, Montana, presented its final reports, findings and action plan to the City-County Board of Health at a public meeting on May 31, 2011.

Lewis and Clark County in Western Montana was among the first communities in the United States to recognize its obligation to ensure universal access to health care based on human rights standards. In 2008, the City-County Board of Health adopted a resolution that recognizes the human right to health and health care, along with the obligation of government to guarantee universal access to care. The Board appointed a task force of local residents to assess the community’s health needs and prepare an action plan for securing universal access to health care. After submitting its community needs assessment in October 2011, the task force has now released an expanded final report. (Most documents from the work of the task force are also available on the Lewis & Clark County health department website).

The task force’s work has been actively supported by the Montana Human Rights Network in partnership with NESRI. Click here for more information on the human right to health care campaign in Montana.

From the media coverage of the report release:

The Helena Independent Record quoted Alan Peura, a task force member:
“What stating health care as a human right does, is it essentially challenges the current economic model of delivering health care in this country and in this community,” Peura said. “And that frankly is what is broken. It’s the business model of delivering health care as another market commodity, not as a public good and service, as a human right.”

A TV report on KXLH quoted County Health Officer Melanie Reynolds: "We want the action plan to not sit on a shelf but be something that can be reviewed and discussed with our community."

Here is a summary of the recommendations to the Board of Health:

1.    Ensure that St. Peter’s Hospital meets the community’s health care needs:
a)    Start a dialogue with the hospital and increase community participation in hospital planning and operations
b)    Raise awareness of St. Peter’s legal obligation to the community, derived from its tax-exempt status, which could potentially be challenged in the courts, if necessary
c)    Consider starting the process of creating a public hospital taxing district to increase funding to expand access to health care services at the hospital and the Cooperative Health Center

2.    Create a new, community-based health care plan in the county:
a)    Start the process of setting up a CO-OP health plan to apply for federal funding by 2013
b)    Assess the feasibility of other alternative health plans, including a Canadian-type plan and publicly financed programs established by other counties across the United States
c)    Start the process of funding health care expansion through a local option income tax

3.    Expand the health services at the Cooperative Health Center, including primary care, dental, and mental health services, and expand the geographical areas served

4.    Initiate a statewide referendum to recognize the human right to health care across Montana

5.    Continue taking incremental steps to expand access to health care and increase affordability:
a)    Improve emergency and non-emergency transportation to ensure everyone can access care where and when they need to
b)    Advocate for streamlining health administration and record management across the sector

Download the expanded final report here.