St. Peter’s Health Supports I-185 for a Healthy Montana

January 18, 2019

By Wade Johnson, Chief Executive Officer

St. Peter’s Health stands united with doctors, nurses and health care organizations to support I-185 because the health of Montanans is at stake if Medicaid Expansion goes away. It’s unfortunate that many people see this is a political issue, because clinicians will tell you firsthand the impact of Medicaid Expansion on people’s health is very real.  

More than 7,000 of our family, friends and neighbors in Helena rely on Medicaid Expansion to receive necessary medical care. Through Medicaid Expansion, they get access to preventative care and chronic disease management that improve their health and cost substantially less than treatment for advanced disease. Since Medicaid Expansion began in Montana in 2015, we’ve provided nearly 1,000 cancer screenings to these patients, and the data proves that many of these screenings detected precursors to cancer or early-stage cancer we were able to successfully treat. Not only was this life-saving, it was significantly less expensive than treating the late-stage cancer that would have landed these patients in our emergency room. Batteries of tests, visits to specialists and aggressive cancer treatments can easily exceed $100,000. All of this was avoided because these patients had access to preventative care through Medicaid Expansion.

In addition to cancer screenings, St. Peter's has provided thousands of primary care visits to people on Medicaid Expansion. Primary care providers are the keystone to health care and help patients take the steps needed to maintain their health. Healthy patients are healthy parents, healthy workers, and healthy veterans, and this has a tremendous impact on the vitality and well-being of our community.

Through Medicaid Expansion, St. Peter’s Health has also provided thousands of mental health-related visits. Most of us would agree there are significant mental health concerns in our community. Suicide, depression, anxiety and other mental health illness affects us personally or someone we know well. This vulnerable population needs more access to care and treatment, not less. I can’t begin to imagine how much worse the mental health crisis in our community will be if we leave these patients untreated. 

As a nonprofit, community-owned health system, St. Peter’s doesn’t support one political party over another, and we rarely take a stance on ballot measures. We stand behind I-185 because Medicaid Expansion is a cornerstone to providing life-saving preventative care and access to quality health care in Helena. Losing Medicaid Expansion will be catastrophic to our patients and community. 

We also support I-185 because raising the tobacco tax will help curb this deadly habit, especially among kids. Everyone, including Big Tobacco, knows that tobacco kills. But this hasn’t stopped them from overtly preying on our children with candy-flavored vaping products that look like a thumb drives!

It’s ironic that Big Tobacco is spending millions to oppose I-185 and falsely claim that it’s an “unfunded mandate,” when the real unfunded mandate is the $440 million dollars that residents of Montana pay every year to treat tobacco-related diseases, while they reap the profits of tobacco addiction. Please don’t be misled by the aggressive and unprecedented campaign Big Tobacco is financing to oppose I-185 under the guise of “Montanans Against Tax Hikes.” They are 100 percent focused on protecting their profits and they’ll stop at nothing. 

Every day, our nurses and doctors work at the bedside treating conditions related to smoking that we know we can prevent. Please consider joining St. Peter’s Health, Shodair Children’s Hospital and the Helena Area Chamber of Commerce – people who have the best interests of Helena in mind – and vote YES for I-185.