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Montana Democrats And Republicans Duel Over Competing Medicaid Expansion Bills

Democratic House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner announced the party’s bill to continue Medicaid expansion in Montana, Jan. 10, 2019.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Public Radio
Democratic House Minority Leader Casey Schreiner announced the party’s bill to continue Medicaid expansion in Montana, Jan. 10, 2019.";

Democrats announced their plan for the future of Montana’s Medicaid expansion program Thursday. It’s one of two different visions competing for support in the Capitol.

The Keep Montana Healthy Act is Democrat’s offer to extend Medicaid expansion past its expiration date in June.

It currently provides health coverage to more than 95,000 low-income people in the state. Policy leaders on both sides of the political aisle believe Medicaid expansion should continue, but disagree about what it should look like. Republicans have said fewer people should be eligible for benefits.

Rep. Mary Caferro is carrying the Democratic bill, which she says removes the June sunset and could make a few changes to the existing expansion law.

“We maybe need to work around the edges. But we have an excellent program. And it’s a model for the whole country.”

Caferro says the bill may include an increase in funding and services to HELP-link, an optional job training program for Medicaid recipients.

“I think that we need to bolster the workforce development program. Which is not to be confused with work requirements, which are draconian and they have no evidence that they worked. And actually work requirements are harmful to people and people end up getting kicked off Medicaid.”

There is no draft language yet for the Keep Montana Healthy Act. A timeline for its introduction to the Legislature is also unclear.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Ed Buttrey is working on another option, what he’s calling the Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act.

“Because we wanted to do more than just removal of the sunset,” says Buttrey.

Buttrey says his bill would require people receiving expanded Medicaid benefits, who are not exempted, to have “skin in the game,” through what he’s calling “community benefit requirements.”

“We know that 70 percent of people on the program are working, so they’re well on their way there. But there's lots of other things, taking care of family, volunteering, doing those types of things would qualify you to meet that requirement.”

Buttrey sponsored the Medicaid expansion program which passed in 2015. He says his new bill could be submitted to legislative staff in draft form as early as next week.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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