A critical vote over the future of Medicaid expansion could come down to the votes one or two state senators Thursday. That’s after debate was delayed Wednesday on the health care program for low-income adults.
Senate Majority Whip Steve Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Great Falls, says the vote will be close on House Bill 658, which is arguably the most high-profile bill of the 2019 legislative session.
The bill to continue the state’s Medicaid expansion program with new work or public service requirements on certain enrollees will need 26 votes to pass in the Senate.
Fitzpatrick says his count puts 26 or 27 senators voting for it, and a couple of those votes could change.
Political pressure within the Capitol is mounting as the major policy remains up in the air facing a deadline early next week to pass back over to the House. If the bill fails, Medicaid expansion in Montana could expire July 1. A University of Montana study suggests that would mean more than 68,000 people would lose their health coverage.
Fitzpatrick says there is growing frustration among some Republicans over political negotiations during the session, and some lawmakers have soured on aspects of the Medicaid expansion debate.
In a noon meeting with reporters Wednesday, Gov. Steve Bullock was asked about the possibility of political horse-trading over Medicaid expansion, linking votes for it to another bill aimed at keeping the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip operating.
"I hear all kinds of things in this building, and we’ll have to see how it all sorts out," Bullock said.
As of last week, there was a plan to tie together support for Medicaid expansion and the Colstrip bill, Senate Bill 331, according to Sen. Tom Richmond, a Republican from Billings. However, he says that may not be the case anymore and there are lots of moving parts.
Richmond is the sponsor of both the Colstrip bill and a co-sponsor of the Medicaid expansion bill.
Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, a Democrat from Butte, also says the upcoming Medicaid expansion vote will be close. When asked if votes for the bill could be tied up with other policies he said, "I’m hoping not, but I’m not naive."
The deadline for House Bill 658, the Medicaid expansion bill, to pass out of the Senate is Tuesday, April 16.