Passing the asset test 

When Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, was knocking on doors this past year and a half, she found her constituents repeating a tired mantra: Montanans need greater access to health care.

“I think kids is a good place to start,” Caferro says.

So Caferro is sponsoring House Bill 552, which would raise the ceiling on an “asset test” that precludes many Montana children from qualifying for Medicaid. The Montana Department of Health and Human Services has long supported raising the cap on the asset test, says MDPHHS’s John Chappuis, but didn’t have sufficient cost data to make the case until now.

If passed, Caferro’s bill would make it easier to pass the test. In the past, children whose families owned more than $3,000 worth of assets (excluding a home and one vehicle) could not qualify for Medicaid coverage. Caferro’s bill would raise the limit to $15,000.

“It’s a bill for children in working families’ homes,” Caferro says, and would also help “ranchers and farmers who are equipment-rich but not income-rich. Same with small-business owners,” she says.

Data show that roughly 3,500 children who now qualify for CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), which has no asset test, would qualify for Medicaid if that program’s asset test bar was raised. Moving 3,500 kids out of CHIP would, in turn, free 3,500 CHIP slots for Montana’s neediest children. Currently, CHIP and Medicaid together cover roughly 60,000 children, according to MDPHHS, and 41,500 Montana children remain uninsured, according to UM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

“As future health care providers in Montana, we feel that ensuring greater access to health care, especially for children, is the right thing to do, both ethically and economically,” reads a letter signed by 20 University of Washington School of Medicine students spending their first year in Bozeman.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s proposed 2006 budget does not include funds to cover children who would pass a revised asset test.

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