Backers of Medicaid expansion celebrated in Helena today as Governor Bullock signed the bill extending the health coverage to an estimated 45,000 more Montanans.
Earl Old Person, Chief of the Blackfeet tribe sang a victory song on the capitol steps this morning honoring the Governor and lawmakers who passed the Medicaid expansion bill.
Inside, the capitol rotunda was packed for the signing ceremony, and Governor Bullock's speech on the bill known as the HELP act.
"There truly may not be any more important piece of legislation this year than the Montana HELP Act," Governor Bullock said.
The HELP act, sponsored by Great Falls Republican Senator Ed Buttrey is a compromise than won support from moderate Republicans after a similar bill backed by Democrats was shot down.
The bill the Governor signed extends Medicaid coverage to an estimated 45,000 Montanans who previously didn't qualify. But the Great Falls Republican who sponsored the measure, Senator Ed Buttrey, says that's not what it's all about.
"This is not Medicaid expansion," Buttrey said. "We've accomplished so much more in creating a plan that truly focuses on a whole solution for Montanans."
What he means is that the bill offers new Medicaid recipients help finding work, and getting new job skills or education in addition to health benefits. That provision helped convince enough Republicans to join all the legislature's Democrats in passing the bill.
Montana is now the 29th state plus the District of Columbia to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
The new law now requires approval from federal Medicaid authorities before it can be enacted, there's no firm timeline for that.