HELENA – As Republicans voted Wednesday to kill bills expanding Medicaid coverage for low-income Montanans, they also advanced what they said is a GOP health coverage plan – but not before stripping out most of its content.
Rep. Cary Smith, R-Billings, told members of the House Human Services Committee that substantive details of House Bill 623 would be filled in later, probably in the Senate.
“We need to pass this bill and get it over to the Senate,” he said, adding that Republicans still have broad disagreements on what should be in the bill.
The committee voted 10-6 on a party-line vote to send HB623 to the House floor, with Democrats opposed.
HB623, in its original form, would hand out $4 million in grants the next two years to low-income households, so they could become eligible for federal subsidies to help them buy health insurance from private companies.
It also would have created a 12-person “citizens council” appointed by Republican leaders of the Legislature to examine health care reforms, cost containment, reforms of Medicaid and other health care items over the next two years.
But, at the request of Smith, the committee’s Republican majority removed those contents and left only a requirement that any Montanan attending an out-of-state medical school and who get tuition help from a state program must practice medicine in Montana for four years after graduating.
Democrats on the panel voted against the change, saying the bill appears to be an alternative to Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposal to expand Medicaid and cover an additional 70,000 uninsured Montanans, but that they didn’t know what it would include.
“I’m not sure what’s going on here today, but I’m sure that I will be voting ‘no,’ ” said Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula.
Rep. Liz Bangerter, R-Helena, the sponsor of HB623, described its original version as a “roadmap to a healthier Montana,” helping more low-income Montanans buy private insurance and helping the state interact with the rollout of the federal health care reform law.
She also said it has nothing to do with expanding Medicaid in Montana, and would use state money to fund the grants that could help several thousand people.