Competition could be the key to lowering healthcare expenses in Southwest Montana. The Bozeman area is seeing changes in primary and specialty medical care that could benefit the health of our community and may save consumers money in the long run.
Healthcare can be one of the largest out-of-pocket expenses a family has each year and these costs continue to exceed the rate of inflation. Political debates and dinner table discussions have been strewn with information regarding the Affordable Care Act and Medicare for All plans and although it’s a popular topic, a resolution to the rising costs of healthcare seems out of reach for today. What we do know is with insurance rates increasing regularly and people searching for quality care at reduced rates, new options are becoming available to consumers. That’s true across the country and right here in the Gallatin Valley. The good news is an influx of providers will give patients choices and may drive down the cost of medical care for some.
The number of traditional and non-traditional healthcare providers in Southwest Montana has increased right along with our population. Within the last several years not only have we seen an expansion of Bozeman’s traditional health services, we’ve also seen naturopathic providers increase. We’ve also gotten quite a bit of attention from large healthcare organizations from across the state who are currently building facilities in Bozeman. Urgent care clinics and specialty outreach clinics are flooding our market and our residents have some decisions to make.
Bozeman Health has been the big player in providing medical services in the Bozeman area since 1897 when the Bozeman Sanitarium was built by Dr. Henry Foster. After Dr. Foster passed away and in 1902 Dr. J. F. Blair purchased the facility and renamed it the Blair Sanitarium. A partnership between the Blair Sanitarium and the Methodist Church birthed Bozeman Deaconess Hospital in 1911. Starting with a 20-bed facility and growing into what the Bozeman Health website describes as, “an 86-bed facility with nearly 200 physicians on medical staff representing 42 specialties”.
Bozeman Health continues to expand its campus and services. A new ambulatory center is underway on Huffine and a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) will open this year. Families have been forced to travel to Billings or out of state for to seek care for their premature or those in critical conditions.
Billings Clinic has moved forward with construction of the 96,000 sq ft Billings Clinic Bozeman Campus off East Valley Center Road. It will house an outpatient surgical center, multi-specialty group practice and an Urgent Care. According to the Billings Clinic website this facility will also provide, “outreach services from Billings Clinic’s more than 80 specialties and access to Mayo Clinic specialists through Billings Clinic’s Mayo Clinic Care Network affiliation and other partnerships”.
Bozeman Primary Care is a membership based medical clinic that opened its doors on April 1, 2019. Co-founded by Nurse Practitioner Melissa Blixt and Terry Edwards, MD it offers monthly memberships for those without traditional health insurance or for patients that don’t have health insurance or not interested in having to pay for high deductible insurance premiums. Dr. Edwards has been board certified in family medicine for 20+ years and is a primary care physician. Dr. Melissa Blixt is an Assistant Clinical Professor affiliated with the Bozeman College of Nursing at Montana State University.
A burgeoning avenue of care in Bozeman is naturopathic/holistic providers. If you do a quick Google search you’ll come across 18 Naturopathic Doctors (ND) listed. These providers have usually been to a 4-year accredited university studying at a post-graduate level. The course of study is different than traditional medical schools and include primary care training, clinical nutrition, acupuncture, homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine and also include some training in the field of psychology. They do have to be licensed in Montana (in some states this is not a requirement) through the Montana Board of Alternative Healthcare, part of the Montana Department of Labor. Naturopathic Doctors are not required to complete a residency although some choose that path.
As medical services continue to expand in our area so do our choices. You’re ultimately responsible for choosing the right provider so make sure to ask your friends and family their opinions as well as doing research online. There is a treasure trove of resources available online including healthgrades.com and vitals.com if you don’t know where to start. Just remember, when it comes to your own health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Eat healthy, stay fit and enjoy everything our beautiful corner of Montana has to offer!