New health-care foundation trustees meet

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The trustees of the Montana Healthcare Foundation met for the first time Wednesday and Thursday to begin figuring out how to build from scratch a $40 million organization meant to improve the quality and availability of health services.

The seven trustees envision the foundation eventually will award grants to nonprofit health groups, but it is going to take a lot of work to get to that point, trustee Denis Prager said.

Their tasks range from simply deciding where to hold monthly meetings to figuring out who will manage the foundation’s initial $40 million, which came from the sale of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana earlier this year to Health Care Service Corp.

Other decisions will include how large a staff to hire and how to set the foundation’s policies and funding priorities, Prager said.

“Even though $40 million, $100 million, $150 million, whatever it turns out to be, is a lot of money, it’s still not enough to meet all of the needs of health care in the state,” Prager said. “So we’re going to have to take some time to set priorities. To do that, we have a lot to learn.”

That means the group plans to travel around the state to find out what the needs are. They also will study similar foundations across the nation to find out what worked and what didn’t, said trustee and former state Sen. Mignon Waterman.

Under state law, proceeds from the sale of a nonprofit health entity such as Blue Cross must go to a nonprofit foundation with a similar mission.

The initial $40 million will be supplemented by money from the liquidation of the rest of Blue Cross’ assets, which could amount to $150 million after liabilities are paid and depending on the market value, officials said.

Attorney General Tim Fox approved the nominations of the new trustees. Fox’s office oversees nonprofit organizations.

Besides Prager and Waterman, the new trustees include Paul Cook of Red Lodge; Michael Harrington of Missoula; Judith LaPan of Sidney; Joanne Pieper of Belgrade; and William Underriner of Billings.

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