The Billings Outpost

Measure examines healthcare law

By KEELE SMITH - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

If backers of LR-122 succeed on Nov. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal health care reform act may not be the last word on the matter in Montana.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, derided by opponents as Obamacare, represented one of the most significant overhauls in the nation’s health care system in 50 years.

Under the new federal law, individuals must buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty when filing their federal tax returns.

It is this so-called “individual mandate” that riled many Republicans in the state Legislature and prompted them to put LR-122 on the ballot.  Sen. Art Wittich, the Bozeman Republican who sponsored the legislation, said he believed “it was the state’s obligation to put this issue before the voters and allow them to have a say in it.”

In March 2010, President Obama signed the ACA into law, saying it would help control health care costs, expand insurance coverage and improve the health care delivery system.

The ACA requires insurance companies to pay at least 80 percent of premiums for medical care, cover people regardless of pre-existing conditions, and allow young adults to be covered by their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.

The measure’s origins

Although the high court upheld the ability of the federal government to penalize those not purchasing insurance by requiring them to pay an additional tax, it also ruled that states could opt out of another element of the law: expanding Medicaid availability to anyone 133 percent above the federal poverty line. That provision aimed to cover another 17 million Americans.

Montana lawmakers will have to decide whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program, but LR-122 targets the individual mandate part of the law.

Beginning in 2014, people without coverage would pay $95 or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is greater.  That tax grows to $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income in 2016.

After that, the penalty would increase annually by the cost-of-living adjustment.

LR-122 will give Montana voters a chance to support or oppose the idea.

The ballot measure came after the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a similar bill that was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Because the Legislature lacked the votes to overturn the veto, they voted to put the same proposal on the ballot with LR-122.

LR-122 would prohibit the state and federal governments from requiring the purchase of health insurance or imposing a penalty, tax, fee or fine on those who don’t buy it. This position would put the state in conflict with the Supreme Court decision from June.

Feds hold the cards

If it passes, “someone would go to court and challenge it right away,” predicted Jim Lopach, a longtime professor of political science at the University of Montana.

Lopach said even if the referendum becomes the law of Montana, it wouldn’t end the individual mandate.

“It’s like a game of cards,” he said. “Federal law trumps state law.  State law can’t trump federal law.”

According to Lopach, federal law was set when the Supreme Court upheld Congress’ power to enact most provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the individual mandate in the ACA is constitutional under the taxation powers given to Congress by the U.S. Constitution.

Despite that ruling, Wittich said it’s important to put LR-122 before the voters because they should have a say as the state begins implementing the health care law.

“We drafted this 18 months ago so that the people of Montana had a right to provide their voice as to whether or not the mandate was legal,” he said.

Political gamesmanship?

Opponents of the ballot measure said it has nothing to do with law and everything to do with politics.

“It’s intended to get people riled up about the health care act when they don’t need to be riled up about it,” said Rep. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula. “They should actually recognize that it’s done good things for Montana, and the individual mandate is an important part of it.”

Barrett was quick to list the new law’s benefits: Montanans with pre-existing conditions can get insurance, more young people can remain on their parent’s insurance, and patients are guaranteed that their insurance will cover at least 80 percent of their premiums.

Even though LR-122 focuses on the individual mandate, Wittich said the way the public votes on the measure may affect the debate over how Montana responds to the law.

“I think there’s an important role for the states as to how Obamacare will be implemented and if it will be implemented,” Wittich said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 October 2012 10:49

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$20,000 to Honor Flight

A donation of more than $20,000 from independent Budweiser distributors across Montana puts the next Big Sky Honor Flight closer to reality.

Wholesalers met with representatives of Big Sky Honor Flight on Thursday, Oct. 4, to present the nonprofit group with a check for $20,575.87. The donation represents a substantial share of the purchase of each case of Budweiser sold in Montana in May, June, July and August. It also represents a statewide commitment by the wholesalers to sending World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to see their memorial.

“We just felt that this was something we needed to do and wanted to do,” said Bruce Jensen, beer sales manager for Intermountain Distributing.

Big Sky Honor Flight’s mission is to recognize World War II veterans for their sacrifices and achievements by flying them to Washington, D.C., — at no cost to them — to see their memorial. Top priority is given to terminally ill veterans. About 190 veterans have already made trips to Washington as part of the Honor Flight program. The contributions made through Budweiser purchases and through other donations will help keep the flights going until all Montana World War II veterans who apply can complete one last mission.

The Budweiser donation moves the program a big step closer to a third flight in the spring, committee members said. Two tours of Big Sky Honor Flight veterans have already been to Washington, D.C. and back. Another 256 World War II veterans are on the waiting list, so as many as three more flights might be needed.

Memories from the flights are priceless and each veteran has felt honored to be a part of it, said Bill Kennedy, vice president of Big Sky Honor Flight.

“The tears that came as soon as we arrived back in Billings said it all,” Kennedy said. “When they saw the 500-plus people cheering them on and they said, ‘this is for us?’ We’re 60 to 70 years late on giving them the homecoming they deserve, but we’re making good on it.”

The trips include stops at important memorials and landmarks in the Washington area including Arlington National Cemetery. The highlight of the trip will be a stop at the National World War II Memorial, which was opened in 2004 and serves as a tribute to the 16 million Americans who served during the war.

The overall fundraising continues as Big Sky Honor Flight aims to get another two or three flights scheduled from Montana over the next two years. About $152,000 is needed to get each flight off the ground.

Through the Honor Flight Network, veterans are flown to see their monument on a “first-come, first-serve basis” with preference given to terminally ill veterans.

To find out more about Big Sky Honor Flight, how to donate and how veterans can apply, go to www.bigskyhonorflight.org, or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . All donations are tax-deductible.

Last Updated on Saturday, 25 May 2013 22:31

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Insurance rates examined

By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection

MISSOULA – Getting a second opinion is standard procedure when facing health problems, and a local consumer advocate wants the same standard in place for health insurance rate hikes. 

Steph Larsen, an assistant director for the Center for Rural Affairs in Missoula, says oversight can save Montanans money. She says an insurance company that operates in both Montana and South Dakota wanted to raise rates by 18 percent last year. The hike wasn’t questioned in Montana, but in South Dakota, it was found not to be reasonable.

“It was knocked back to eight percent because South Dakota has the authority to question whether the rate hike of 18 percent was justified.”

Larsen claims reviewing rates helps keep insurers honest, and it’s up to the state legislature to set a rate review law. Insurance companies have resisted reviews, saying that consumers can switch companies if they don’t like rate hikes. Larsen adds that most states review rate increases: only three do not.

Larsen says a competitive marketplace would work in Montana to control insurance rates if there were a host of competitors, but that’s not the case in Big Sky Country.

“Health insurance really isn’t a free market system right now in Montana, because two insurers control over 80 percent of the market.”

Larsen says the state should seriously look at ways to keep health costs down, because those are factored into rate hikes. She also wants the state to consider expanding Medicaid, so more families will receive regular care rather than pass on expenses by using emergency rooms for routine care and delaying treatments.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 October 2012 22:16

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Red flag warning set

 

Below is a National Weather Service Red Flag warning which will be in effect from 6 am to midnight on Tuesday 10/2/2012.  The weather conditions will create explosive fire growth potential. Aggressive initial attack and mutual aid will be crucial as resources will likely be stretched thin. If there are any questions concerning this, please contact me. Please urge everyone to use EXTREME caution during this critical period! Thank you.

GALLATIN NATIONAL FOREST-WHEATLAND COUNTY/SWEET GRASS COUNTY- STILLWATER COUNTY-BEARTOOTH RANGER DISTRICT CUSTER NATIONAL FOREST- GOLDEN VALLEY COUNTY/MUSSELSHELL COUNTY-YELLOWSTONE COUNTY- CROW INDIAN RESERVATION/BIG HORN CANYON REC AREA- NORTHERN ROSEBUD/NORTHERN TREASURE COUNTIES- NORTHERN CHEYENNE INDIAN RESERVATION/ASHLAND RANGER DISTRICT CUSTER NATL FOREST-CUSTER COUNTY- SIOUX RANGER DISTRICT CUSTER NATIONAL FOREST-SHERIDAN COUNTY- BIG HORN NATIONAL FOREST-

939 AM MDT MON OCT 1 2012

..RED FLAG WARNING IN EFFECT FROM 6 AM TUESDAY TO MIDNIGHT MDT TUESDAY NIGHT FOR LOW HUMIDITIES...UNSEASONABLY WARM TEMPERATURES...STRONG GUSTY WINDS...AND WIND SHIFT WITH A COLD FRONT FOR ALL OF SOUTH CENTRAL MONTANA...ALL OF SOUTHEAST MONTANA...PARTS OF NORTHWEST SOUTH DAKOTA...AND PARTS OF NORTH CENTRAL WYOMING...

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BILLINGS HAS ISSUED A RED FLAG WARNING...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 6 AM TUESDAY TO MIDNIGHT MDT TUESDAY NIGHT.

* IMPACTS...STRONG WIND GUSTS COMBINED WITH LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY

  LEVELS AND A STRONG COLD FRONT WILL CREATE DANGEROUS FIRE

  WEATHER CONDITIONS TUESDAY INTO TUESDAY NIGHT.

* COLD FRONT...A STRONG COLD FRONT IS EXPECTED TO MOVE THROUGH THE

  AREA LATE TUESDAY AFTERNOON WITH A STRONG WIND SHIFT TO THE

  NORTH.

* WIND...WEST WINDS 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 35 MPH ARE EXPECTED

  DURING THE DAY TUESDAY...SHIFTING TO THE NORTH WITH GUSTS AROUND

  40 MPH AS A COLD FRONT MOVES THROUGH THE REGION.

* HUMIDITY...AS LOW AS 12 PERCENT.

* TEMPERATURES...75 TO 85.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW...OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF STRONG WINDS...LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY...AND WARM TEMPERATURES WILL CREATE EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL.

Duane Winslow

Emergency and General Services Director

Yellowstone County

Last Updated on Monday, 01 October 2012 23:57

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President Mace says he’ll retire at Rocky

Rocky Mountain College

Rocky Mountain College President Michael R. Mace announced his retirement, effective June 30, at the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, Sept. 21.

“We thanked Mike for his dedicated service and with best wishes to him in his retirement,” said Carl Hansen, chairman of the Rocky Mountain College Board of Trustees. “We hired him for one year and we were fortunate to keep him for five more years. He leaves a solid record of growth with stability.”

Mace, who was named interim president on Oct. 12, 2005, when Thomas R. Oates resigned, was deemed “the right man at the right time,” by William Ballard, a member of the RMC Board.

Mace said he intends to enjoy “spending time with family, traveling, fishing, and relaxing” when he finishes his career at RMC.

“I’ve enjoyed the work I did at Rocky more than any job I’ve done in my life. I’ve been fortunate to work with great people doing meaningful work,” he said. “I feel we’ve accomplished what we set out to do: grow the endowment, the enrollment and maintain a balanced budget.”

Hansen said the college will conduct a national search for a replacement.

“We have Mike for another nine months and he will help with a smooth transition and finding a replacement,” Hansen said.

During his tenure, Mace was praised for leadership in the community, for fostering good relations with the college’s constituents, and for overseeing sustained growth in the college’s finances. The endowment and trusts increased from $17 million to nearly $30 million during his tenure; enrollment increased from 650 to almost 1,000 students. RMC’s annual scholarship fundraisers – Black Tie Blue Jeans – flourished during his presidency, with increases in total funds every year. The college continued to be named one of the best

colleges in the West by U.S. News & World Report, as well as one of the top five best value colleges in the West. Forbes named RMC the top college in Montana in 2010.

The Masters of Physician Assistant Studies program was also successfully reaccredited for five years, with its graduates testing in the top 10 percent nationally under Mace’s leadership. The 2012 class was in the top 9 percent in national testing with one third achieving perfect scores.

For the past two years and four of the last five years, 100 percent of RMC’s students have passed the PANCE on the first testing, averaging 92 percent.

“We are grateful for how Mike helped turn this college around. His successor certainly will step into a very much better atmosphere than he found when he took over,” said Barb Skelton, a current trustee and immediate past chair.

Mace has a bachelor’s degree in business from Montana State University-Bozeman and has a certificate from the Carlson Graduate School of Management at the University of Minnesota. The program teaches senior executives of Fortune 1000 firms a master’s of business administration curriculum over 14-months.

Married to Karen, a retired elementary school teacher, he has two children: Anne and Joseph.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 September 2012 20:11

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Static-X moves

The Static-X concert on Wednesday has moved from the Babcock Theater to Manny's Sports and Entertainment. Refunds for previously purchased tickets can be made at their point of purchase. Questions on tickets can be directed to Tickets300 at (866) 300-8300.

The lineup also has changed. Playing are 9 Electric and the Farthest Edge.

Last Updated on Monday, 17 September 2012 08:57

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9-11 ceremony on Tuesday

 

MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES

A year after the Billings community dedicated a memorial to honor those who died and served in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy, a commemoration ceremony will be held at its site at City College at Montana State University Billings.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept., 11 at the site of Montana’s 9/11 Memorial at City College (formerly the College of Technology). The ceremony will involve administrators, faculty, staff and students from MSU Billings as well as representatives from the Billings Police Department, Billings Fire Department and local Boy Scouts.

Here is a look at the schedule for the event:

  • 7:30 a.m.:  Sirens sound memorial remembrance by City College paramedic program
  • 7:31 a.m.: Flag- raising by the MSU Billings Army ROTC members
  • 7:35 a.m.: Laying of Wreaths by MSU Billings Chancellor Rolf Groseth, City College Dean Marsha Riley, Billings Police Chief Rich St. John, and Billings Fire Chief Paul Dextras, paramedic student Brianna Kaftan, fire science student Michael Kooy, and Ben and Josh Winn, members of Billings Boy Scout Troop 394
  • 8 a.m.: Lessons learned from 9/11. Room 127 Health Sciences Building. Special guest speaker will be George Menig. Menig will discuss medical issues and the physical and mental after-effects that catastrophic events can have on first responders. Menig was a member of the NYPD from 1981 to 2001. He retired as Commanding Officer of the 33rd Precinct Detective Squad and was previously assigned to the NYPD Emergency Service Unit.  Of the 23 NYPD police officers killed on 9/11, 14 were members of the Emergency Service Unit.

Montana’s 9/11 Memorial stands as a steadfast, silent witness to the memory of those who lost their lives at the hands of terrorism on that landmark day 11 years ago. It also provides a place of reflection and honor for those who serve others, whether in the armed services, police, fire or emergency response.

 

The centerpiece of the memorial is a 600-pound piece of steel I-beam recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center, which collapsed after the attacks a decade ago.  I was formally dedicated on Sept. 11, 2011.

Volunteers from across the community worked together through the spring and summer of 2011 to make the project a reality. City College faculty members developed the idea for the memorial and secured the piece of iron. Representatives from MSU Billings, Exchange Clubs of Billings, Stockman Bank and the Billings Fire Department broke ground on the site and worked by hand to give the area its shape. Workers from EEC Inc., and CMG Construction followed up with dirt removal and site preparation. Fisher Sand and Gravel poured the slab. 

Set on a 40-foot diameter concrete pad, the 4,150 square-foot memorial features benches for personal reflection as well as informational panels set in sandstone around the edges. At the center is a 12-foot diameter raised platform on which the I-beam rests. Rising above the I-beam are two 16-foot tube steel towers, a scaled-down visual replica of the World Trade Center towers that fell on Sept. 11, 2001.

Faculty and students make use of the memorial ways to enhance the academic experience. Awards will be given to 10 students for outstanding 9/11-related class or personal projects produced during this academic year. These projects could include a research paper, report, speech, lesson plan, literary work, art, computer animation or music. Five $100 awards are open to students from all colleges and departments, and five will be awarded to City College students. The 10 awardees will be selected by a university-wide committee of faculty and staff.

In addition, the memorial led to a community project. The Montana 9/11 Oral History Project was a service learning activity for students and community members. The objective is to collect, record and archive 9/11 memories from the Billings community with the intention of sharing their unique perspectives with future generations.  Ultimately, the project will create a greater understanding of what the 9/11 attacks mean to Montanans and how the events of September 11, 2001, shaped our community over the course of the last decade.

 

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 09 September 2012 17:10

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Liquor licenses available

HELENA – The Montana Department of Revenue is publishing the availability of additional liquor licenses and accepting applications in three Montana communities.

After reviewing this year’s population estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Census, DOR is adding one Floater All-Alcoholic Beverages License for Billings and new All-Alcoholic Beverages Licenses for Broadwater and Liberty counties.

Every year about this time, DOR adjusts the number of licenses available in each quota area based on the population estimates and advertises for lottery applications.

“The population in Billings increased enough to allow one license to be floated into that quota area, and the populations of Broadwater and Liberty counties grew, which increased the license quota,” said John Flynn, DOR Liquor Licensing Bureau Chief.

The notices began this week and continue for four consecutive weeks in the Billings Gazette, Townsend Star and Liberty County News. DOR will accept lottery applications for the available liquor licenses until 5 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2012. To apply, visit http://revenue.mt.gov/content/formsandresources/current_year_downloadable_forms/Other_Forms_Not_Yearly/Liquor_Licensing_Forms/lotapp.pdf.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 September 2012 23:03

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New magazine to focus on native life, issues

By ADRIAN JAWORT - For The Outpost

Bethany Yellowtail, 23, a Northern Cheyenne Tribal Member also with Crow descent, has come a long way from the tiny town of Wyola (population 215) on the Crow Indian Reservation to where she now resides in Los Angeles and holds the title of first patternmaker on the design team of hip-hop mogul Russell Simon’s popular urban clothing line Baby Phat.

Yellowtail was exactly the type of person Mary White, a Crow Indian who grew up in Pryor, was looking for to represent the debut of the Native Strong Magazine launch that took place Aug. 17 during this year’s Crow Fair.

White said the magazine is the culmination of ideas from American Indian tribes from Montana, California, Oklahoma and other western states that aim to inspire American Indians from ages 15 to 30 “to be proud of who they are and to live healthy, productive and positive lifestyles.”

“Inspiration” was the theme of the model casting call contest and follow-up concert accommodating the magazine’s kickoff.

It will cover everything from Native American pop culture, current events and native humor to serious social issues like high suicide and poverty rates plaguing reservations.

“We come from a lot of hardships, but we also have a lot of belief and faith in our culture,” White said. “We really want to bring up and highlight the good of our people.”

Native Strong Magazine’s motto, “In Beauty We Walk,” was brought to life by the model casting call where female and male contestants walked on a runway, answered a few basic questions, and sought to win a professional photo shoot to help their budding modeling careers and inclusion into the magazine.

The model casting call judges included Yellowtail and this year’s America’s Next Top Model contestant Mariah Watchman, a Umatilla Tribal Member from Pendleton, Ore. Watchman has Montana roots in Missoula – where she was born - and Wolf Point, where she spent considerable time growing up with her mom’s family on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

The 21-year-old Watchman was also one of the models who helped debut Yellowtail’s designs in Billings in April during a fund-raising fashion show for Crow Democratic primary congressional candidate Jason Ward.

“When we look at a contestant, we want a candidate to be confident and proud of who they are,” Watchman said of the judging criteria. “A model can always be a pretty girl or good looking, but what’s important to me is that they have a really good personality.”

At least a couple of dozen contestants from 4-year-olds to 20-somethings entered, although most contestants were in their teens.

One young woman, Natasha Laforge, said she wanted to go to college at Central Arizona College to study equine science and become a horse veterinarian. Another teen named Mika wanted to become a nurse after joining the Navy, while 8-year-old Tina wore a pink cowboy outfit and naturally aspired to be a cowgirl.

Bridgette Shields, an Assiniboine tribal member from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, won the female model contest. Stephen Yellowtail, a Crow Indian from Wyola and Sheridan, won on the male side. Both contestants wanted to become models and positive role models for their communities as Watchman and Bethany Yellowtail were.

Watchman, who has modeled internationally since she was 15 after signing her first contract, said the Umatilla Reservation always gave her positive support whenever she came back home so she tries to give back to Indian reservations however she can. She speaks fluent Umatilla, is always quick to tell people she’s American Indian and grew up on reservations, and is proud to use her personal success to be an ambassador of sorts for all natives.

However, Watchman and Yellowtail both want to see all Native success become the norm and not the exception in mainstream culture. Yellowtail said, “We don’t want to stay doing casting calls on the reservation and be pigeonholed here, because we have beautiful models and women who are strong and have dreams to do other things away from here. We want to be successful inside and outside the reservation.”

In spite of their young ages and already high level of success in their chosen careers, Yellowtail and Watchman want to continue setting their personal bar of achievements higher to help inspire other native youths who may struggle to find role models.

“We’re not even at the peak of our careers,” Yellowtail said. “We’re on the incline.”

Watchman concurred, and related a story of how when she was eliminated from the “America’s Next Top Model” show, her disappointment was short lived after Tyra Banks told her while she might not be America’s Next Top Model, she could be Native America’s first supermodel.

Now whenever Watchman gives speeches to youth on Indian reservations, she tells them, “I was the first Native American to appear on ‘America’s Next Top Model.’ Who wants to be the first native to win it?”

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 August 2012 22:11

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Partnership launched

RiverStone Health, in collaboration with the Missoula City-County Health has launched the Nurse-Family Partnership, an evidence-based community health program that aims to help transform the lives of vulnerable mothers pregnant with their first child.

Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is a voluntary prevention program that provides nurse home visitation services to low-income, first-time mothers. Nurses begin home visits early in the mother’s pregnancy and continue visitation until the child’s second birthday. Nurses provide support, education and counseling on health, behavioral and self-sufficiency issues.

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a nationwide law enforcement organization of more than 5,000 members that include police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and attorneys general, identified NFP as a proven investment to cut crime and violence. Providing voluntary parent coaching to at-risk parents of young children through NFP, a research study showed that the children served were half as likely to be abused and neglected.

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 August 2012 22:01

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