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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Medicaid Expansion Wins Preliminary Approval In Montana Senate

Eric Whitney

The Montana Senate today gave preliminary approval to a bill to expand Medicaid coverage to the state's working poor on a 28 to 22 vote.

Republican Senator Ed Buttrey of Great Falls is the sponsor of Senate Bill 405. It’s aimed at covering Montanans who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act's marketplace.

He says he's been working with the federal agency that oversees Medicaid to craft a Montana solution to the problem of this gap.

Buttrey says this includes concepts not being used in other states, including requiring co-pays and premiums for participants and a tie to helping them get a job or a better paying job.

“I would ask you to vote for a plan that is all about Montanans helping Montanans and all about Montanans helping themselves,” Buttrey said.

Opponents, however, blasted this bill because of its tie to the ACA.

“You can tie a red ribbon on this or you can tie a blue ribbon on this but this legislation is the implementation of Obamacare,”Senate Majority Leader Matt Rosendale.

But Rosendale says his real beef with the bill is the fact it was introduced late, and as a result did not go through the normal process of committee hearings and executive action. Instead he says the sponsor relied on a blast motion to bring Senate Bill 405 to the floor for debate.

“In short this is bad policy and it arrived here through a bad procedure,” Rosendale said. “It simply condemns the people in this state on dependency on the federal government.”

He also charges this bill was shielded from the public and lawmakers, and crafted by special interests who were sitting in the gallery watching this debate.

Not true, countered Buttrey.

“I did hear that this was created in dark alleys with special interest groups, which besides being insulting and offensive is laughable,” he said.

Buttrey says he's been working on this issue for nearly three years with numerous groups and lawmakers, including leadership and many Senators sitting today on the Senate floor. He calls it a compromise bill.

In the end, seven Republicans joined all 21 Democrats in voting for Senate Bill 405.

The bill faces a third and final vote before being sent to the House. 

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