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MT Dems developing Medicaid-expansion proposal; few details yet

HELENA – Legislative Democrats said Thursday they’re introducing their own bill to reauthorize expanded Medicaid in Montana, but offered few details on how it may update the program that provides health coverage to 95,000 low-income Montanans.

“This is just a beginning,” said Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, who plans to sponsor the bill. “We as Democrats are committed to preserving the health of our constituents. We’re committed to working shoulder-to-shoulder with Montanans to come up with a made-in Montana solution.”

Caferro and fellow Democrats made the announcement at a Capitol news conference.

But the bill has yet to be drafted or introduced. So far, it’s only a draft request, submitted by Caferro.

Rep. Mary Caferro, D-Helena

Caferro said later that Democrats, who are in the minority at the 2019 Legislature, want to develop their own proposal, rather than waiting to see the details on a separate proposal being drafted by Republican Rep. Ed Buttrey of Great Falls.

Buttrey, who sponsored the bill that began Medicaid expansion in 2015, told MTN News this week he’s working on a comprehensive proposal that will extend the program but also include reforms that require participants and health-care providers to have “skin in the game.”

The $550 million-a-year program is set to expire in June. Whether and how to reauthorize the program is one of the biggest issues before the 2019 Legislature.

Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls

Medicaid expansion pays medical bills for childless adults that earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $16,700 in annual income for a single person. The federal government funds 90 percent of the program, but the state Legislature must approve it and can design some of its details.

Gov. Steve Bullock and fellow Democrats have argued that the program should be extended, with few changes, saying it’s been a smashing success.

“Montana’s Medicaid expansion is firing on all cylinders,” Caferro said Thursday. “The population of Montana is healthier; it has provided a backbone to our businesses, especially small businesses. It’s generated hundreds of millions of dollars for Montana’s economy, all across the state, in every county.”

Yet Republicans, who control majorities in both houses of the Legislature, note that the program is covering far more people than originally estimated and say its cost needs to be controlled.

Buttrey and other Republicans also have said that they want to make changes that target the program more at the “truly needy.”

Caferro said Thursday that Democrats will craft their own Medicaid bill in an open and transparent process, talking to all “stakeholders” in the program.

The bill will be titled the Keep Montana Healthy Act and will encompass “a unique approach that takes into account the rural and vast nature of Montana and our health-care delivery system,” she said.

Mike Dennison

Mike Dennison

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