HELENA – A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the state Senate voted Thursday to bring a key Medicaid expansion bill to the Senate floor, where it will be debated Friday and is expected to pass.
The Senate voted 28-22 to “blast” from a committee Senate Bill 405, which is the sole surviving bill at the 2015 Legislature to accept hundreds of millions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid to cover an estimated 46,000 low-income Montanans.
Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, the sponsor of the bill, said he feared if he waited for action by the committee, the bill might die by missing a deadline next week for transmission to the House.
“This bill has not been delayed on my part,” he said. “It’s taken this long to get to the point where it just has to go forward or not.”
If the Senate passes SB405 this week, it heads to the House, where a bitter battle is expected over its passage.
Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Thursday he believes a majority of Democrats and Republicans in the House support the measure. However, he said he expects it may take a series of parliamentary maneuvers to bring SB405 to the House floor and have an up-or-down vote on the bill.
Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and legislative Democrats have made Medicaid expansion a top priority this Legislature.
Buttrey introduced the measure less than two weeks ago as an alternative to Bullock’s Medicaid expansion proposal, which was killed March 9 by the Republican majority in the House.
He said Thursday that SB405 is a “compromise bill” and “the most conservative (Medicaid expansion) plan ever proposed in the United States.”
Republican leadership at the Legislature strongly opposes accepting federal money to expand Medicaid as authorized by the Affordable Care Act, which is the 2010 federal health overhaul also known as “Obamacare.” They say it will obligate the state to greater costs in the future.
Senate Majority Leader Matt Rosendale, R-Glendive, on Thursday adamantly opposed bringing SB405 bill to the Senate floor, saying the move violated the usual Senate procedure of allowing a committee to examine the bill before coming to the floor.
Yet seven Republicans, including Buttrey, joined all 21 Senate Democrats to go against Republican leadership’s wishes and bring the bill to the floor. The same coalition is expected to support the measure Friday and eventually pass it through the Senate.
Other Republicans supporting the “blast” motion Thursday were Sens. Brian Hoven of Great Falls, Taylor Brown of Billings, Pat Connell of Hamilton, Llew Jones of Conrad, Duane Ankney of Colstrip and Bruce Tutvedt of Kalispell.
SB405 authorizes the state to accept an estimated $430 million in federal money the next two years and cover as many as 45,700 adults who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, about $16,200 a year for a single person. Those eligible for coverage would have to pay 2 percent of their annual income as a premium and would pay more if their property and financial assets exceed a certain amount.
The Senate Public Health Committee amended SB405 Monday night but was unable to get a majority to move it to the floor. The Senate then transferred the measure to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, which heard the bill Wednesday, but took no action.