Montana Politics

May 2, 2013 10:42 AM by Marnee Banks (marnee@kxlh.com)

Advocates, opponents still battling over Medicaid expansion in Montana

HELENA - It looks like Montana voters may have a say in whether or not to expand the state's Medicaid program.

During the 2013 session, the Montana Legislature killed all bills that were aimed at adding 70,000 more Montanans to the government-run healthcare program.

Governor Steve Bullock (D), a strong supporter of Medicaid expansion, says this was the biggest failure of the session.

"Let me be clear, we will reform healthcare in Montana. We will do it with or without the Legislature's help," Bullock said on the last day of the legislative session.

Bullock has hinted that he may call the Legislature back to a special session to address healthcare reform.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups are already making plans to put the issue before Montana voters as a ballot initiative.

Montana Human Rights Network director Kim Abbott says the language would be simple and would just expand Medicaid, and it would not contain the reforms that many Republicans say are much needed.

Abbott says because of the Legislature's failure to act, Montana misses out on receiving $1 billion in federal money.

She also said that it leaves uninsured Montanans behind: "Montanans for whom health insurance is financially out of reach. What they do is they delay primary and preventative care, and they delay things like surgeries, that aren't emergency surgeries. That often means that they can't fully go back to work. It means they work less hours, or can't do a job that pays better."

MT State Senator Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge) is a strong opponent to Medicaid expansion and says Democrats and moderate Republicans passed a budget which is out of balance and the state simply doesn't have the money to put more people on Medicaid.

"Recent polling shows Obamacare is still deeply unpopular in Montana," Priest said. "I suspect the opponents who want to prevent the transformation of the world's greatest healthcare system into the world's largest welfare system will defeat any ballot measure."

Priest hopes the governor doesn't call a special session, and instead signs House Bill 604 which forces the Legislature to study healthcare reform and the Medicaid system.

That bill is waiting action on Bullock's desk.

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