Montana has a lot of positives about it. From mountain views and outdoor recreation that contribute to a high quality of life, to growing town centers and new businesses offering opportunities – loving the state is easy. But with growing income inequality and limited medical services in rural areas, it isn’t a paradise for everyone. Let’s take a look at health equity, who it impacts, and what we can do to make positive change in our home state.
Health equity is simple. It’s the vision of everyone having a fair and equal opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Health equity is often measured by things like easy access to clinics, fair pay that offers a living wage, and quality education. But there’s a large variety of other factors that can impact it too. Let’s take a look at the situation in Montana.
In Montana, a variety of issues impact health equity. The first step toward fighting inequity comes from identifying what stands in the way. Here are some of the most common health equity hurdles we face in Montana.
The population of people in Montana with a first language other than English is growing. CHP is proud to say that since 2006, we’ve made a point to hire bilingual and bicultural staff so that patients can speak with someone who looks and sounds like them while seeking healthcare. Inclusivity has an important place in healthcare when it comes to health equity.
Income is a common barrier to healthcare. It also impacts access to other important health suppliers like warmth, healthy foods and exercise opportunities. This doesn’t just relate to the amount on each paycheck. It also comes in the form of rising costs for expenses like rent. CHP offers a sliding fee scale to assist uninsured patients achieve better equity.
People who live here love Montana’s wide-open spaces, but they come at a cost. Many remote areas in the state require long drives to services. And often, the most affordable places to live offer the fewest job opportunities and most limited access to services. In Montana, almost 44% of residents live in a rural area, or one with fewer than 2,500 people in a town, according to the 2020 census. And most of the state is defined as rural. That can make getting healthcare services challenging.
Limited education affects your ability to understand healthcare information and make healthy choices for yourself. It also affects what jobs a person can get and the income they’ll bring home. As we’ve seen, these factors have direct impacts on health equity. In 2019, 28.4% of the state population had a high school degree or equivalent as their highest level of education. And 22.9% had some college with no degree.
Without a car, it can be difficult to access services. And Montana’s remote areas are less likely to have convenient and affordable public transportation options. Here, fewer ways to get around meet farther distances to travel. Getting to medical appointments, or even accessing grocery stores with healthy food options, can be more difficult. Fortunately, in communities CHP serves including Bozeman, Belgrade, Livingston and West Yellowstone, CHP’s clinics are centrally located in areas where people are likely to go for multiple services and errands. Some are even located within local schools. And in many of these areas, free bus systems can help people get to the clinics easily and without cost.
CHP makes this a priority in every decision, from programs to sliding payment scales and help finding insurance programs to fit any family or individual. We make progress through small changes like bilingual staff, clinics in schools for convenient access, and free learning programs for children, adults and families. Join us as we take steps toward health equity together.
To make an appointment for equitable health services through CHP, get in touch with your nearest clinic. Find your way to affordable and accessible healthcare in southwest Montana.