HELENA – A small group of Republican senators is working on a plan that would help poor, uninsured Montanans buy private health insurance at very little cost, starting next year.
Yet the plan would substitute for Medicaid expansion in Montana, rather than augment it, said Sen. Alan Olson, R-Roundup, one of the group.
Olson said he’s not supporting Medicaid expansion, which would extend government-financed health coverage to some 70,000 low-income Montanans beginning in 2014.
Instead, the group is working on a proposal that would use state funds to help the poorest adults increase their income to 100 percent of the federal poverty level – at which point they would qualify for federal subsidies to help buy private insurance.
Olson said he’s not sure where the money would come from, but that the group, which includes himself and Sens. Ed Buttrey of Great Falls and Fred Thomas of Stevensville, is considering several options. It would not be federal funds, he said.
“What we’re trying to do is find a funding mechanism to go down to those below 100 percent of the federal poverty level and bring them up to that level, so they can go on the federal exchange (and buy insurance),” he said.
Under the Affordable Care Act, citizens earning from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level can qualify for federal subsidies, if they buy private health insurance on federal “exchanges,” which are Internet marketplaces.
Those below 100 percent of federal poverty level income – $19,500 for a family of three or $11,500 for a single person – are not eligible for the subsidies. The ACA, as passed by Congress, was supposed to put those citizens on Medicaid.
But the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the ACA made Medicaid expansion optional for states, leaving those below 100 percent of the federal poverty level in a sort of health insurance limbo – if their state didn’t expand Medicaid.
Olson said the group of senators is hoping to insert its proposal into a House bill that is coming to the Senate.
As for the Medicaid expansion bill that was endorsed by the Senate on Tuesday, Olson said he thinks Republican support was for only the bill’s reforms of the Medicaid system – and not the expansion.