Tomorrow, April 7, scores of Montanans will be at the state Capitol in Helena, hoping to make one last plea to members of the House Human Services Committee to pass a bill expanding Medicaid.
This time, their pleas mustn't fall on deaf ears.
The Montana Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership Act, or Senate Bill 405, represents the 2015 Legislature's last chance to expand Medicaid coverage for thousands of low-income Montanans.
Instead of covering 70,000 Montanans, as a bill from Gov. Steve Bullock would have done, this legislation would likely help an estimated 45,000 qualified Montanans. Also, the HELP Act requires those who get coverage to pay premiums and co-payments, and asks them to participate in job assessment programs.
That's not ideal, but these concessions were made in the spirit of compromise. The bill will still allow our state to take advantage of federal funds through Obamacare to provide health care coverage to households with incomes of less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line.
That's only slightly more than $16,200 a year for an individual. Imagine trying to make ends meet with that. Now, imagine getting sick or injured.
Montanans from all walks of life and every income level recognize the foolishness and heartlessness of turning down federal funds that would allow these folks to get the medical care they need but cannot afford. Unfortunately, a number of Republican representatives in the House still need convincing.
The House Human Services Committee, in particular, must be encouraged to open their hearts and minds to the possibility that this bill is what's best for Montana. This same committee earlier in the session killed Bullock's Medicaid expansion bill despite hours of testimony in its favor. Legislators appeared to have already made up their minds to slap a "do-not-pass" recommendation on the bill, and the full House voted to uphold their action.
This time, House Democrats have announced their intention to use one of their six so-called "silver bullets" to move SB405 out of committee and onto the House floor. Yet the committee's chairman, Rep. Art Wittich, has reportedly said the maneuver won't stop the committee from taking the same action as last time.
If the committee does issue another "do-not-pass" recommendation, at least 60 representatives will have to vote just to get the bill out of committee. It shouldn't come to that.
This time, the committee ought to listen sincerely to the stories of their fellow Montanans who are counting on this bill. They should put some stock in the votes of their counterparts in the Senate, who recently approved SB405 on a 28-21 vote. They should hear directly from the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Ed Buttrey, and ask him to describe the reasons why he felt the work that went into this bill was so worthwhile.
Taken altogether, these experiences and arguments make an ironclad case for Medicaid expansion.
But only if legislators are willing to listen.