Thursday, 9 April 2015

Montana Moderates Revive Medicaid Expansion

By Eric Whitney, Montana Public Radio

Thu, Apr 09 2015

Moderate Republicans have outmaneuvered conservatives in the Montana legislature to give a Medicaid expansion bill here a real chance of passing. Its prospects have been in doubt since the legislative session began in January.

The bill faces a crucial debate and vote on the state House floor Thursday. If the Republicans who joined with Democrats to overcome attempts to kill it don’t stray, it has the votes to pass. Pending the governor’s signature and approval from the federal government, the bill would make Montana the 29th state – plus the District of Columbia — to expand Medicaid.

As in 2013, the last time Montana’s every-other-year legislature met, Republicans hold strong majorities in both houses. An attempt to pass Medicaid expansion in 2013 failed.

So no one was really surprised this year when Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s Medicaid expansion plan was shot down in its first committee hearing last month.

But a similar bill subsequently brought by Republican Sen. Ed Buttrey of Great Falls won every Senate Democrat’s support, and seven Republican votes, enough to send it to the House.

Like the governor’s proposal, Buttrey’s bill would accept federal funds under the Affordable Care Act and extend benefits to non-disabled adults without children, proposals that are non-starters for many conservative Montana Republican lawmakers. But unlike the Democratic proposal, it would require recipients to pay premiums and participate in “workforce development” programs aimed at moving people off of Medicaid and into jobs that pay enough to qualify for federal subsidies to buy private coverage on

Buttrey’s bill faced an uphill battle when it got to the House. It landed in the same committee that killed the governor’s bill, headed by conservative Republican Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman.

“That this compromise is widely shared is hogwash,” Wittich said after his committee heard more than four hours of testimony Tuesday. Proponents who came to speak included hospital and business interests. Opponents, organized with the help of the Koch brothers-funded group Americans for Prosperity, turned out a larger group than testified against even the governor’s bill.

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