Helena State Capitol File Are

Montana's capitol building is shown in this Chronicle file photo.

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The state of Montana will now cover the price of a novel coronavirus test — and, if needed, treatment — for uninsured Montanans who have a provider’s recommendation.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced the decision during a Tuesday press call along with new rules built to help workers and small businesses hurting financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the state’s actions aim to respond to both the public health and economic strain the virus has caused in Montana.

The money to cover the increased care for people without insurance will come from state Medicaid dollars, though Bullock said there’s potential for more federal funding.

“We want to make sure that anyone who is symptomatic has the option to test,” Bullock said.

Bullock said roughly 6% of people in Montana don’t have insurance. He said the lack of health insurance often causes people to put off seeing a doctor or to be turned away, “which could further fuel this pandemic and put other Montanans at risk.”

Patients who want to tap into the coverage have to show a provider recommendation and, after receiving that, the state will reimburse the patient for their visit.

The option will be available starting Monday, March 23. To access the new emergency assistance, people can call 406-444-7605 or email HHSPresumptive@mt.gov.

Bullock also announced emergency rules that make unemployment benefits accessible to workers laid off due to COVID-19.

“The rules we’ve implemented today will ensure that workers impacted by COVID-19, whether it’s because they’ve been laid off, are quarantined, or need to take care of a family member, can do so without worrying about how they will make ends meet during these difficult times,” Bullock said.

The new rules — effective immediately — came through U.S. Department of Labor approval. They allow someone directed by their employer to leave work or not report to work due to COVID-19 to qualify as temporarily laid off. The rules also waive the typical week-long wait before unemployment benefits kick in.

Workers who must quarantine or who need to take care of a family member due to COVID-19 are also considered eligible.

Individual claims won’t be chargeable to a specific employer’s account. According to state officials, the rules could also extend the time employers have to file wage reports and pay unemployment insurance contributions if the delay is related to COVID-19.

The workers are responsible for staying in contact with their employer and return to work when they have the opportunity, Bullock said. People who could work from home but choose not to aren’t eligible.

People can apply for the benefits online by visiting montanaworks.gov or call the Unemployment Insurance Division at (406) 444-2545.

When it comes to employers, small businesses have the chance to apply for emergency loans through the Small Business Administration if impacted by the new coronavirus. The loans aren’t intended to replace lost sales or profits.

Businesses can apply for up to $2 million in 30-year loans with an interest rate of 3.75%. That money could be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that otherwise could have been paid without the presence of the pandemic.

Businesses may apply directly to the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program here: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance.

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Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.