Health Care Professionals Rally In Support of Montana's I-185

Oct 3, 2018

Opponents of the ballot initiative to raise Montana’s tobacco tax dumped more than $3.5 million into their campaign in September - raising their spending total to more than $12 million.

Together, groups promoting and opposing the tobacco tax have spent more than $17 million to influence the outcome of I-185.

That initiative would raise the state’s tobacco taxes by $2 per pack and tax e-cigarettes and vaping products for the first time. The initiative’s backers say that would cover the expense of Montana’s Medicaid Expansion program, which state legislators could allow to expire next year.

About 100 health care professionals rallied for the initiative Wednesday at Missoula’s Community Health Center.

Dr. Pam Cutler, president of Western Montana Clinic, says the tobacco industry is pulling out all the stops to defeat the measure.

“They’re spending millions of dollars in Montana to spread misinformation. You get it in your mail every day or every other day.”

The Associated Press says ‘Montanans Against Tax Hikes’ spent an average of $895,000 a week in September and the beginning of October advertising against the initiative. By comparison, Montana’s hospitals and health groups including the American Cancer Society, Planned Parenthood of Montana and the Service Employees International Union 775 have spent an average of $405,000 a week on ads, for a total of almost $5 million.

Dr. Carter Beck says he supports I-185.

“Because I think it’s immoral to abandon the people that need our help the most over some political principle.”

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (left), Mark Mentel, Vice President of the Montana Medical Association and Carter Beck, a neurosurgeon, at Wednesday's rally.
Credit Edward O'Brien / MTPR

Beck, a neurosurgeon, describes himself as a libertarian who frequently votes Republican and actively campaigned against implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“I think we could develop a very fine health system without government, but it’s not up to me. Where we stand right now health insurance is unaffordable for people who are low income.”

Montana hospitals are backing Medicaid expansion in part because the program has bolstered struggling rural hospitals, and led to an increase in profitability for others since it passed in 2015. As more Montanans have become insured, that means hospitals are giving away less healthcare for free.