Medicaid bill: ‘Do not pass’

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HELENA — A Republican-led committee voted to send a “do not pass” recommendation to the full House on the governor’s Medicaid expansion proposal known as the “Healthy Montana Plan.”

The House Human Services Committee allowed nearly three hours of testimony in favor of House Bill 249, which would expand Medicaid to about 70,000 low-income Montanans, and the session lasted more than six hours altogether.

Many of the hundreds of supporters spoke for and about a dozen people spoke against before the committee took its vote over the objection of Democrats on the panel. The “do not pass” recommendation means it would take 60 votes from the full House to override and allow action on the bill on the floor.

Bullock, who has been pushing the proposal since 2013, has said Montana must make health insurance available for those who struggle to make ends meet.

Tara Veazey, health policy advisor to Bullock, said during the marathon hearing that the health and lives of some Montanans hung in the balance.

“It’s rare in this building that moral policy, fiscal and economic imperatives all align,” Veazey said. “This is one such instance.”

Bullock’s office estimates that about 70,000 people fall into a coverage gap in which they don’t currently qualify for Medicaid or for subsidies to help them pay for coverage on the federal health care exchange.

Holly Bouch now falls into the gap after losing her job and health insurance in September. She’s been diagnosed with a chronic lung disorder that spread and attacked her kidneys and liver. After she lost her insurance, she also lost her place on the kidney transplant waiting list.

“Medicaid would allow me to get back on the transplant list and could afford my medication and be able to see my doctors on a more frequent basis,” Bouch said. “Medicaid expansion would give me a shot at a normal, healthy life.”

Mark Semmens, managing director of investment banking for D.A. Davidson Co. in Great Falls, said as someone who has spent 30 years immersed in business, finance and economic issues that lawmakers need to look beyond ideology and at the numbers.

Semmens said the expansion would bring an estimated $5 billion of new revenue into Montana over the next six years and create 12,000 jobs.

The federal government will fully fund the expansion until 2020, after which states will be responsible for 10 percent of the costs. The expansion is projected to save the state of Montana $80 million in the four years leading up to that cost sharing.

Spoeaking in opposition, John Quandt, executive director of Americans for Prosperity Montana, said, “Government health care is not the solution on any level.”

The Daily Inter Lake contributed to this story.

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