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HELENA, Mont.— A bill to expand access to affordable health care will be heard in the Senate Business and Labor Committee tomorrow. 


Senate Bill 101, sponsored by Senator Cary Smith, R-Billings, seeks to authorize Direct Patient Care (DPC) in state law. DPC is a system where patients pay their doctors directly for a variety of health care services, instead of going through an insurance company.


“Health care continues to become more expensive year after year,” Smith said. “This bill is about giving Montanans a more affordable option to access quality health care, improving the doctor-patient relationship, and giving clarity to a growing Montana DPC industry.” 


DPC is often paid for through an affordable, flat monthly subscription fee, features transparent prices for additional services, and gives patients more personalized care from their doctor.


“The patient/doctor relationship is sacred, and the direct primary care model allows me to keep this relationship at the center of medical care, without having to swim mightily against the system to do so,” said Dr. Todd Bergland, President of the Montana Direct Primary Care Association. “I work for and am accountable to the patient, rather than a third party with other interests. DPC brings back the caring piece of medical care that has faded away over the last few decades.” 


“Improving health outcomes (and thus lowering costs) starts with a genuine relationship between a patient and a primary care provider,” added Dr. Cara Harrop of Purehealth DPC in Polson. “Direct primary care is a sustainable model for both patients and providers to spend their energy and resources on actually changing behaviors that affect health outcomes.” 


SB 101 specifies that DPC is not insurance, provides definitions and guidelines for what qualifies as Direct Patient Care, and gives the expanding number of DPC clinics in Montana legal certainty.


“Because DPC is not insurance, it doesn’t cover major medical events like hospitalization or large specialized treatments. It’s still a good idea to have a health insurance policy that covers those things,” Sen. Smith said. “But with DPC, you can get a lot of your health care needs—routine examinations, ongoing health ‘maintenance’ issues, tests, preventative care, and more—taken care of affordably.”


If passed and signed into law, SB 101 would conclude the years-long back-and-forth actions on DPC in Montana. In 2015, when Congressmen Matt Rosendale was a state senator, he sponsored a bill to authorize DPC that was vetoed by then-Governor Steve Bullock. In 2017, Bullock again vetoed similar legislation by Senator Cary Smith. Rosendale, by then serving as Montana’s insurance commissioner, stepped in and issued an advisory memo authorizing DPC. 


“Authorizing Direct Primary Care was a key part of my success providing more affordable health care options for Montanans as insurance commissioner,” Congressman Rosendale said. “I’m glad Senator Smith is carrying on our work to make DPC available to more Montanans.” 


SB 101 is also supported by Montana’s new insurance commissioner, Troy Downing. 


“Senate Bill 101 is common-sense legislation for Montana consumers. Adding this tool to the toolbox will expand choices across the state. Thank you to Senator Smith for sponsoring this nonpartisan bill,” Downing said. 


Since Rosendale’s 2017 advisory memo, at least seven DPC clinics have opened in Montana, in BillingsMissoulaBozemanKalispellPolsonWhitefish, and Helena. The reaction from patients to Montana’s existing DPC clinics continues to be “overwhelmingly positive.” 


“Direct Primary Care has proven to be a transparent, low cost option of quality primary care for Montanans struggling under higher and higher medical costs,” said Kendall Cotton, President and CEO of the Frontier Institute, a nonpartisan, Montana-based think tank. “With SB 101, lawmakers have an opportunity to permanently authorize DPC and help drive down the cost of healthcare for Montanans.”