Governor vetoes bill allowing for health-coverage waivers

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Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has vetoed a bill that would have allowed the state to respond to federal health-care law reforms by applying for “innovation waivers.” The waivers would have allowed Montana to turn toward high-risk health insurance pools.

The bill was one of seven that Bullock vetoed on Monday.

Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale, a Republican, said Bullock’s veto was a misstep. Rosendale’s office regulates insurance in Montana.

“Montanans will suffer because the governor refuses to accept the reality of the health insurance market and refuses to even listen to any new approaches toward solving the problem of high health-care costs,” Rosendale said in a statement on Tuesday.

Rosendale said House Bill 652 would have helped stabilize the state’s health insurance marketplace and reduce the cost of insurance — whether the U.S. Congress decides to repeal the Affordable Care Act or keep it in place.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, passed out of the Montana House with a 60-40 vote on April 22.

Bullock’s veto message said the bill would have allowed Rosendale to apply to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services “to make sweeping changes to health coverage for Montanans with no public input.”

Bullock said that high-risk insurance pools are unpredictable because “the federal government is not likely to sufficiently fund these pools,” according to his veto message.

High-risk pools are a piece of the national debate around U.S. House Republicans’ replacement for the Affordable Care Act, which the U.S. House passed last week.

The American Health Care Act — which still has to pass the Senate to become law — would allow states to set up high-risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions instead of requiring insurance to cover them.

An amendment to the national bill added $8 billion in additional funding over five years for the potential risk pools. That addition was part of the reason the bill earned enough votes to pass the U.S. House.

Bullock’s veto message said “far-reaching decisions” around the state’s health coverage shouldn’t be in the hands of one agency, referring to the state auditor’s office.

Rosendale said any waiver request would go through a public notice and comment period.

Reporter Katheryn Houghton may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at khoughton@dailyinterlake.com.

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