Thursday, 12 March 2015

Republican Lawmakers Sink Montana Governor’s Medicaid Expansion Plan


By Eric Whitney

Wed, Mar 11 2015

Obamacare’s tenuous toehold in Montana appears to be growing no firmer. Despite a hearing crowded with supporters of the Democratic governor’s Medicaid expansion bill, Republican legislators have dealt the measure a likely death blow.

Republicans control both houses of the Montana legislature, which meets only every other year, and the health law has been controversial. The legislature refused to set up a state-run insurance marketplace before enrollment began and in 2013 it turned down a proposal to expand Medicaid. But statehouse Democrats were hopeful they could ally with enough moderate Republicans to gain a majority of votes in favor of their bill this year.

House Republicans, however, refused to advance  the bill  and invoked a rule requiring a three-fifths majority of House members to vote  for the bill to continue to the floor. That threshold is widely regarded as unattainable.

“This is a clear abuse of the power of a committee chairman,” complained House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, a Democrat from Helena.

But the committee chairman, Rep. Art Wittich, said he and fellow Republican committee members were well within their rights to deny advancing the minority party’s bill.

“We are not a democracy by decibel,” said Wittich, who comes from Bozeman. “The democracy includes how the legislature is made up. There is a Republican majority in each house. We are the majority, and we play by the rules.”

Wittich’s move to forestall debate came at the end of the bill’s marathon first hearing last Friday, where more than 200 Montanans spent hours urging Medicaid expansion. Speakers represented the state’s hospital association, it’s low-income clinics, doctors and nurses groups, Native American tribes and the state public health association. Expansion is also backed by the state chamber of commerce.

Only a dozen people testified against the bill, including one self-proclaimed Tea Party member and two staffers from Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the conservative Koch brothers that is campaigning against Medicaid expansion in several states.

Republicans on the committee were unmoved by proponents. They voted as a block to give the bill a “do not pass” recommendation, meaning it dies barring three-fifths of the entire House voting to revive it.

source : Republican Lawmakers Sink Montana Governor’s Medicaid Expansion Plan

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