HELENA – A Democratic lawmaker Thursday introduced the first bill this Legislature to continue Medicaid expansion in Montana, saying the program providing health coverage to 95,000 low-income adults should remain largely unchanged.
Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, said the only significant changes she’s proposing for the program are more money to fund its workforce-training segment and increased payments from hospitals to help finance it.
“It’s based off conversations I’ve had … with Montanans, who overwhelmingly say this (program) has been valuable for our health, valuable for our economy, valuable for our workforce – just keep it going as it is,” she told reporters at a news conference at the Capitol.
The federal government pays 90 percent of the costs of the $600 million-a-year program, which began in 2016. It’s set to expire this June unless the Legislature reauthorizes it.
Caferro’s House Bill 425 likely will have its first hearing later this month in a House committee.
Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, plans to sponsor an alternative bill to extend Medicaid expansion, likely with some additional restrictions on eligibility. He told MTN News Thursday he hopes to introduce it within the next week.
Under current federal and state law, anyone earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line is eligible for Medicaid expansion coverage – an annual income of about $16,700 a year for a single person.
Buttrey has said his bill probably will include some sort of work or volunteer requirements for Medicaid-expansion recipients and perhaps drug-testing or asset tests.
Republicans, who control majorities in both houses of the Legislature, have said they won’t approve extending Medicaid expansion without some changes to the program.
When asked Thursday why Republicans would accept her bill, instead of one reflecting their own stated goals, Caferro said Republicans should be asked why they don’t want to stick with a “wildly successful program.”
“What we know is that nearly one in 10 Montanans have health insurance through Medicaid expansion,” she said. “Almost a quarter of the people in Medicaid expansion have gone through some sort of workforce training. It’s brought $600 million into the economy and nearly $300 million in person income. … Why wouldn’t Republicans support what we have?”
She also said the current Medicaid expansion program already is a compromise between Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and Republicans in the Legislature, crafted in 2015. Buttrey sponsored the bill at that time as well.
Story by Mike Dennison, MTN News