Opinion by: Matt Rosendale
My mission as state auditor during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to ensure continuity of insurance coverage and to provide as much financial relief as possible.
With so many of our friends and neighbors laid off, furloughed, working with reduced hours, or closing their business altogether, every dollar matters right now. I worked with insurance companies and eliminated red tape to get more than $20.7 million back to Montanans in refunds and credits on 500,000 insurance policies.
I also worked with Montana’s health insurers to get coronavirus testing covered at no charge and expand tele-health services so patients can access care without having to leave home. I hosted a tele-town hall to warn the public — especially our seniors — about scams during this time of uncertainty and misinformation. I’ve provided guidance on how Montanans can get health insurance, especially after being laid off, and also provided steps insurance companies can take to be flexible with customers suddenly struggling to pay bills.
We’re better positioned to weather this situation now than we were a few years ago. Before the virus arrived in the Last Best Place, my staff and I developed a plan to provide uninterrupted service to Montana consumers in the case of an emergency. When the stay-at-home order was issued, we implemented that plan, and I’m incredibly proud of what our team has been able to accomplish to serve Montanans while most staff have had to work from home.
For the past three and a half years, we’ve cut costs, streamlined our operations, reduced regulations, and put policies in place to make health care more accessible and affordable. The agency is well-positioned to weather the anticipated budget problems facing state government thanks to these earlier cost reductions.
We also implemented a program to lower the cost of every single individual health insurance plan while continuing to provide coverage for folks with preexisting conditions, took numerous steps to lower the cost of prescription drugs, and gave direct primary care clinics the certainty they needed to open. That effort with direct primary care clinics has already led to at least six new medical providers across the state offering quality, affordable care—with no insurance required.
On the securities side, we established the Montana Financial Exploitation Task Force to coordinate our anti-fraud efforts across multiple agencies and jurisdictions to protect Montanans, especially seniors, from scams.
Instead of issuing government mandates, I’ve taken the approach that many Montanans have: collaborating and working together to get through this crisis.
While we all face ongoing economic and health challenges, we must give thanks to Montana’s health care professionals on the front lines of combating this virus, as well as to our first responders, grocery workers, truck drivers, farmers, ranchers, and so many others who have stepped up to keep shelves stocked and basic necessities available.
Continued hard times are ahead of us, but as always in Montana, we’ll take care of each other and come out of this even stronger than before.
Matt Rosendale is Montana’s state auditor, commissioner of securities and insurance. COVID-19 information from the Auditor’s Office is available at: csimt.gov/covid-19-info
See the opinion column in the Helena IR