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House Calls Make a Comeback in Montana

True to its mission of enhancing the quality of life for all as we age, AARP Montana played a key role in passing legislation that helps do just that. The Montana Health Corps Act (HB 578), sponsored by Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena and supported by AARP Montana, creates a corps of retired doctors to make house calls for disabled and older Montanans. The innovative program is believed to be among the first in the nation to utilize such a model.

AARP staff and volunteers provided testimony in support of the bill before the House Human Services Committee, the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety committee. At each hearing, AARP representatives not only weighed in as proponents of the bill, but served as expert witnesses to field questions from legislators. AARP also encouraged supporters to turn out for the hearings.

The “health corps” of retired doctors will provide affordable in-home health care visits to patients eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. Physicians will charge patients just $10 a visit and may submit a charge to Medicare or Medicaid. To make the deal more attractive to doctors, the measure provides relief from liability in exchange for providing the low-cost care. Because expensive clinic space would not be required for house calls, doctors can keep their overhead costs to a minimum.

“Bringing doctors out of retirement and back into the workforce for home visits just makes sense,” said Bob Bartholomew, AARP Montana State Director. “It helps provide care to Montanans who have difficulty leaving their homes while at the same time, it should help address the growing shortage of primary care doctors in the state. We encourage any retired doctor who is interested in this program to take the next step and find out more.”

The program is expected to be up and running by the first of the year initially with a handful of doctors. But as more doctors come on board, the program is projected to serve about 2,500 people when fully implemented. Doctors interested in joining the program are urged to contact the Montana Board of Medical Examiners.

“As the aging population grows, we're going to see a greater need for home care, including doctor visits. This program helps address many of the critical issues facing a graying society,” said Claudia Clifford, AARP Montana Director of Advocacy. “Another benefit of the program is that it will save money for the state by providing a low-cost option that keeps people out of nursing homes and hospitals.”

For more information on the new program, call Jean Branscum, Executive Director, Board of Medical Examiners with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry at (406) 841-2360.

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