Montana Senate panel OKs Medicaid expansion alternative

2013-04-12T19:00:00Z 2013-04-13T06:23:00Z Montana Senate panel OKs Medicaid expansion alternative

HELENA – Republicans on a Senate committee late Friday afternoon pushed through their alternative proposal to provide subsidized health coverage to poor Montanans starting in 2014, calling it a workable compromise that also could reform Medicaid.

“The compromise is to come up with any sources (of money) that we could, to provide (coverage) for as many people as possible,” said Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, one of the architects of the plan. “We’re not diving in with both feet. We’re looking to come back with a better, expanded solution.”

But Democrats on the Senate Public Health Committee voted against the plan, calling it a hastily concocted scheme whose cost and effects are unknown.

“There’s an old saying, if you like the law or sausage, don’t watch either being made,” said Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook. “I don’t know what type of sausage we’re making here. …

“Good try guys, but I don’t think you have a product here that we really ought to be sending out the door.”

The committee voted 4-3 along party lines to amend the GOP health coverage plan into House Bill 623 and then approve the bill, sending it to the Senate floor for debate early next week.

Republicans, who control majorities in both houses of the Legislature, indicated the measure eventually will end up in a House-Senate conference committee that would craft a final version before sending it to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock for his signature.

The Bullock administration, however, would rather expand federally funded Medicaid to extend health coverage to 70,000 low-income Montanans next year and opposes HB623.

Bob Runkel, a branch manager for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, testified against HB623 on Friday, saying it would not provide health coverage for many poor people who need it.

“It would result in the poorest people with the least likelihood of gaining access to health care coverage,” he said. “We simply believe that is just not right.”

A Medicaid-expansion bill remains alive in the House, but faces an uphill battle for approval, leaving uncertain the fate of any health coverage proposal for Montanans earning less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level.


HB623 came out of the House 10 days ago as a bare-bones bill, with Republicans expecting their Senate majority to devise a health coverage plan and insert it into the bill.

The proposal, which would use state money to help poor, uninsured Montanans qualify for federal subsidies to buy private health insurance next year, is meant as an alternative to Bullock’s proposal to expand Medicaid.

Buttrey and Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, unveiled extensive amendments to the bill Friday afternoon as they presented the bill to the committee, which Priest chairs.

Buttrey said the amended bill would take money from several sources, such as Insure Montana, a state program the currently subsidizes health insurance for small-business employees, and use it to provide grants to those under 100 percent of the federal poverty level to help them buy private insurance on an “exchange.”

Starting next year, those buying insurance from the exchange, which is an Internet marketplace, can get federal subsidies to help pay the cost of the insurance.

However, Buttrey said the only people eligible for the grants would be those with jobs, full-time students or those caring for a dependent family member.

Buttrey could not answer questions about how many people would be eligible, or how much the program would cost, saying a fiscal analysis will be done before next week.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Mike Dennison can be reached at 1-800-525-4920 or by email at

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(13) Comments

  1. chaffincreek
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    chaffincreek - April 15, 2013 9:02 am
    @idiot state: Again your rant does little but expose your anger at anything Montana. If we do not set up Medicaid it goes to the states that do. In point of fact it is a bargain.

    Unions have nothing to do with the argument. Get over it idiot state, your gone and Montana is happier for it.
  2. idiot state
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    idiot state - April 15, 2013 8:09 am
    Chaffin: And don't forget Idaho, South Dakota, Co., Iowa, Nebraska, Michigan, Maine, New York, Texas, Alaska..
    Are they all that bloc of southern states to which you referred?
    Naw. Montana's the losingest state in the region, and it's most heavily controlled by the big labor unions, environmentalists, and crooked politicians of the Democrat persuasion.
    Montana's got the lowest state GDP, incomes, everything...
    Lose the unions and corrupt politicians..or retain your bottom of the barrel status.
  3. chaffincreek
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    chaffincreek - April 15, 2013 5:38 am
    @hellgatenights: Rants are not debatable. No facts no credibility – it is just that simple. By the way I am not familiar with Gov. Switzer. Perhaps you meant Governor Schweitzer. The sad part is that you are not even in touch with the basic facts and yet you chose to bloviate ad nauseum. I’m sorry but your “educated guess” and straw man pivot holds as much credibility as your rant.
  4. hellgatenights
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    hellgatenights - April 14, 2013 6:51 pm
    ChaffinCreek -

    You are so sure of the future costs? I cannot enjoy your confidence as the cost curves change with the wind on a daily basis.

    Let me take a educated guess........I bet you are certain that global warming is indeed a harbinger of the "End of man" as well? As you know.....all the latest speak is centered on the "Cooling" of the last decade now.

    The president has finally presented his budget......some 60 days late, and like all his other budgets, it will not be sustained. The last one did not get one democrat vote.

    Many states are NOT going to set up the healthcare exchange and will not assist the feds in any aspect of this game. WHY? Becuase they know a bomb when they see one........the FEDS are literally writing the rules as they go, and it is not going well.

    Bottom line.....we can do a better job at the state level. I was impressed with the "Exchange" that Gov. Switzer helped to set up for public employees......he made it look pretty easy and he did not have some FED agency telling him what to do.

    FED contributions are already unsustainable........we know this, so why on earth would we want to play a losing game?

    The only thing I see for certain is that the middle class (that's me....on the lower end).......had better look to taking care of themselves as much as they can. We are ALL going to get soaked with taxes never seen in our lifetimes.......this will fuel a lot of anger once the genie is out of the bottle. Then smiling Max and Big John will not be coming to town to kiss babies, they will be hiding at the ranch.

  5. chaffincreek
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    chaffincreek - April 14, 2013 7:02 am
    Greta you are 100% wrong. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities states:

    “Specifically, the federal government will assume 100 percent of the Medicaid costs of covering newly eligible individuals for the first three years that the expansion is in effect (2014-2016). Federal support will then phase down slightly over the following several years, and by 2020 (and for all subsequent years), the federal government will pay 90 percent of the costs of covering these individuals. According to CBO, between 2014 and 2022, the federal government will pay $931 billion of the cost of the Medicaid expansion, while states will pay roughly $73 billion, or 7 percent.”


    In the future a little fact checking would help.
  6. BR
    Report Abuse
    BR - April 14, 2013 1:25 am
    False. The correct funding formula has been put on these web pages the last wee and still Greta insists on getting it wrong. Must be a common misinformation source.
  7. Greta
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    Greta - April 13, 2013 5:24 pm
    What Bullock and other dems won't tell you is that the Federal government will subsidize Medicaid expansion for the first three three years. Then after three years all Federal monies dissapear and the state has to pick up the entire tab-100%. That will leave Montanans holding the bag for over 70,000 new Medicaid recipients, with an average annual cost of about $200 million dollars per year. A great bait and switch. Don't fall for it. Our current Medicaid program is already over-burdened with more beneficiaries than we can afford. This is just another less than opaque way of passing along other peoples medical costs to taxpayers.
  8. chaffincreek
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    chaffincreek - April 13, 2013 4:09 pm
    @Idiot State: The biggest block of states not participating in Medicaid expansion is the nine contiguous southern states: Louisiana (49), Mississippi (tied 49), S. Carolina (46), Alabama (45), Oklahoma (43), Texas (40), Tennessee (39), Georgia (36), and N. Carolina (33). I have included their health ranking. In common, they all have working poor groaning under a system where they cannot afford healthcare. Nice try Idiot State, your zealous anti Montana diatribe falls flat once again.
  9. chaffincreek
    Report Abuse
    chaffincreek - April 13, 2013 4:05 pm
    @hellgatenights: “As we have written many times, the law does not slash the current Medicare budget by $500 billion. Rather, that’s a $500 billion reduction in the future growth of Medicare over 10 years, or about a 7 percent reduction in growth over the decade. In other words, Medicare spending would continue to rise, just not as much. The law stipulates that guaranteed Medicare benefits won’t be reduced, and it adds some new benefits, such as improved coverage for pharmaceuticals.” (FactCheck.Org)

  10. hellgatenights
    Report Abuse
    hellgatenights - April 13, 2013 2:16 pm
    There is much more here to consider. It is not simply a matter of "Take the monies you hate poor people." On the contrary.......we may ALL become poor people if we keep taking federal handouts (bribes).

    Obama has already gutted medicare by $500 billion to make his phony math add up on obamacare. That is now law.

    Whenever the FEDS come to Helena with handouts, monies, bribes and candy.....THERE ARE ALWAYS STRINGS ATTACHED. HENCE, MONTANA TAKES FAR MORE FED MONIES THEN WE CONTRIBUTE.

    What strings? Well just look here to Happy Valley. The city received a grant of Fed monies several years ago to add police head count. Great! We will take it! Now we the FED MONIES ARE GONE......but we still have the police, and we have to pay for them. What's more, the mayor wants to add 5 more "Courtesy Police"!! Look....these are expenses, not products. Once the cop retires at the ripe age of 44, we have to pay them a life time of pension, and we get nothing for it.

  11. idiot state
    Report Abuse
    idiot state - April 13, 2013 8:24 am
    Many states are refusing to expand Medicaid. How're they doing it..? Montana should look to see how they're handling the situation. But of course Gov Bullock will like the federal money, government exploding Medicaid. With no thought of the future. Frankly, considering the idiocy of the Democrats last week, I'd not give too much weight to their opinions. They seem to be thoughtless, coniving, corrupt, uncivil. A useless bunch of folks..
  12. montanamuralist
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    montanamuralist - April 13, 2013 6:39 am
    Just Priest and his clown GOP cohorts giving the insurance industry more business, and cutting benefits to poor folks. How many with insurance coverage find that much of what they need is not covered? That is reforming health care Priest you idiot? No, Gov will veto this junk. Nice try GOP insurance but boys. Insurance is the problem not the solution.
  13. BR
    Report Abuse
    BR - April 12, 2013 7:21 pm
    I agree that this is, "a hastily concocted scheme" by the most radical austerity Republicans in many generations. What Montana poor person could trust that? None. And the Public Health leadership testified that the schmoozing propaganda of the Republicans about this bill is simply not true; it would not help the poor seeking health care.

    A total wash, legislators. Support the Medicaid expansion as you should have from the beginning.
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