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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Republicans Unveil Healthcare Plan, Minus Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid logo.

A conservative group of Republican lawmakers unveiled their plans to address healthcare in Montana that don’t involve Medicaid expansion. It’ s dubbed “Big Sky Health.” The package contains just over 20 bills.

Because there are so many bills in their package, Republicans were asked why not approve the Governor’s bill, House Bill 249, and accept the federal appropriation to expand Medicaid.

House Appropriations Chair Nancy Ballance says they believe Montana can do better for its roughly 1 million residents, "than a federal program that’s designed for 300 million plus people. The second answer to that question is as we said even the governor is not sure this funding is sustainable so he has a safety net so if that federal funding drops below 90% then what happens to people on the program? We think its important that those people continue to be covered and that we control that funding so that we know the federal government isn’t going to rip that rug out from under their feet."

This working group of Republicans say there’s enough state revenue to cover the costs of their plan and they don’t need the federal dollars authorized to expand Medicaid coverage. It’s part of the federal health care law passed in 2010 and most commonly referred to as ObamaCare.

Senator Fred Thomas says instead they will use Medicaid for the most needy Montanans.

"And that includes children, blind individuals, disabled people in Montana, low income seniors and parents. Our plan continues to incentivise work and that is a significant difference to the governor’s plan."

When asked if the work reference was aimed at single, able-bodied-adults, Representative Art Wittich says the intent is to provide services to those most in need. He says there is welfare fraud and abuse.

"We clearly know that there are people on welfare that should not be on welfare and frankly are taking vital resources away from the truly needy in Montana," Wittich claimed.

House Democratic leader Chuck Hunter has a different take on the Republican plan.

"Well my basic response is they want to pick winners and losers," Hunter said.

"Rather than address the needs of the entire population that’s not being served today, they want to reach in and select the people they view worthy of support, and not provide services to the rest. Most true, best example is, they don’t want to serve anyone who’s not working."

Hunter says there’s a myriad of reasons why some aren’t working including: they suffer from a mental or physical illness; they’re carrying for a sick family member; or they are working, but don’t have full-time employment.

As for the bi-partisan efforts on addressing mental illness, Hunter says what stuck in his craw was the reference from Republicans that lawmakers are responding to all of the public feedback.

"Everyone who’s dealing with this population was very frank about saying we have to do something for community mental health services in the state of Montana, but I think Republicans stopped listening there because the rest of the sentence was and the best thing we can do to provide services to this population is to expand Medicaid."

Some of the bills in the Republican’s "Big Sky Health" plan have been acted on. Others are awaiting committee assignment or are still in the drafting stage.

The Governor’s Health Montana Act, House Bill 249, has been assigned to the House Human Services Committee chaired by Republican Art Wittich but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

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