Posted: Apr 12, 2013 9:45 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) says he is willing to work with Republicans to expand Medicaid, even if it means taking some patients to the private health insurance market.
In his weekly press meeting on Friday, Bullock urged the Legislature to expand Medicaid to 70,000 more Montanans.
"We need to cover the Montanans and we need to provide reform," Bullock told reporters.
He says he would support a plan which allows Medicaid patients to purchase private health insurance on the exchange instead of the providing coverage through the state.
"The idea of a private market solution that's being explored in Arkansas and other places, I think is acceptable," Bullock explained.
Bullock did emphasize that expanding Medicaid so people living below 138% of the federal poverty level is critical. He says he would have trouble supporting legislation which covers fewer Montanans.
The Governor says while his Access Health Montana plan provided a good solution, he is willing to consider the other bills which are still alive. Bullock says that's why he is working with Republicans to find a compromise.
Senate Bill 395 passed the Senate last week and is scheduled for a hearing on Monday. This bill expands Medicaid so a family of four making $32,000/ year would qualify for taxpayer subsidized health coverage. Currently, the cap is $8,000/year.
Bullock has been working with Senator Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) on amendments to the bill which could rally the support of more Republicans. Buttrey says he would like to see low income Montanans receive subsidized health insurance from private companies instead of the government.
"What we would be doing in this plan is making the private exchange larger. So we would cover more folks with the private exchange," Buttrey said in an interview. "And that is really beneficial because it provides better rates for the hospitals, it puts the money in the private sector and it will be good for a lot of Montanans."
SB 395 faces an uphill battle in the House Human Service committee, where Republicans previously tabled the Governor's Access Health Montana plan. The committee is made up of 10 Republicans and 6 Democrats. If the committee refuse to pass the bill, the House can try and pass the bill without the committee's approval, but it would need 60 votes.
So there is an alternative option, House Bill 623, which doesn't expand Medicaid, but instead provides grants to low income Montanans allowing them to purchase private health insurance.
HB 623 is awaiting a vote in the Senate Public Health committee where Senator Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge) serves as Chairman. He is confident this bill will make it out of committee and to the Senate floor for a vote.
"We are trying to prevent 70,000 Montanans from going on a broken welfare system," Priest said in an interview. "And we are trying enable those Montanans to obtain private health insurance which produces better outcomes, it gives them more access to more doctors and access to more tools which make them healthier."