Posted: Apr 17, 2013 9:57 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
HELENA - One of the most contentious issues of the session came to a head on the Senate floor on Tuesday evening.
Twenty seven senators voted to use federal Medicaid dollars to put 70,000 low-income Montanans on private health insurance.
It's something that has never been done before, and lawmakers aren't completely sure they can pull it off because they will need buy in from the federal government.
But the entire Democratic party, along with six Republicans supported House Bill 623 because they say they want to provide health insurance to those who don't have it.
"We want to be creative, because that's who we are in Montana. We have to address the problem. We know we have to address the problem. Expanding access to health care was a major goal of our session. And this takes us a step in the right direction," explained Sen. Jon Sesso (D-Butte).
The 23 Republican senators who voted against the bill say it will bankrupt Montana, because even though the costs to the state are smaller in the first few years, they increase dramatically into the future.
"You vote green, you are voting for expansion of Obamacare, you are voting for a complete government takeover of our healthcare system. You are voting for higher taxes, higher healthcare costs and less service," said Sen. Art Wittich (R-Bozeman).
The six Republicans who supported the bill say this isn't about the Affordable Care Act, but instead tapping the federal money that's available and using it to craft a private market solution.
"It is expanding the insurance exchange, it is not expanding Medicaid. It is not taking away from the current population of Medicaid and it is not adding to the current population of Medicaid. There is no expansion," said Sen. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls).
As senators debated one of the biggest issues of the session, tempers flared, emotions ran high, opponents to the bill threatened litigation and, in the end, the bill passed by four votes.
The bill must pass one more vote in the Senate before heading back to the Montana House of Representatives.