Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Just Fix It

Congress must move past cheap campaign rhetoric and make time to govern

Last fall, Reps. Frank Garner and Zac Perry increased their win margins when reelected into the Legislature.  The second-term lawmakers serve in the state House.

Garner, who represents Kalispell voters, increased his reelection win margin from 856 votes in the 2014 election to 1,212 votes in the 2016 election.

That’s impressive given Garner is a Republican winning big in a House district also won by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

Perry represents Columbia Falls and increased his reelection win margin from 47 votes in 2014 to 271 votes in 2016. Bullock lost the Columbia Falls House district by 18 votes in 2016.

As newly elected freshmen legislators, Garner and Perry worked with Bullock and the 2015 GOP-controlled Legislature to allocate federal dollars to expand private health insurance to 70,000 Montanans, including 6,000 locals here in the Flathead.

A Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic governor crafted a made-in-Montana solution to expand Medicaid statewide. Montana currently allows poverty wage earners to purchase federally subsidized, private health insurance using Medicaid funds.

The U.S. House is currently debating big changes to healthcare, with draconian cuts in federal funding for not only the 70,000 Montanans who purchase Medicaid insurance but also anyone currently receiving federal healthcare tax breaks.

Congress’ budget analysts say the House proposal will lead to 14 million losing insurance next year and 24 million over the decade.

Who knows what Congress does? Maybe senators like Jon Tester and Steve Daines find a reasonable fix to the current system.

Montana currently enjoys no representation in the U.S. House.

Sens. Tester and Daines should leave Medicaid alone. Medicaid isn’t broken; don’t dismantle this rural healthcare safety net. Cutting $88 billion annually out of Medicaid, like the House proposal does each year for a decade, clearly doesn’t help rural state hospitals.

Tester and Daines might rather consider substantially increasing the refundable tax cut available to taxpayers who purchase insurance.   

Current law allows $673 billon in healthcare tax credits over the decade to help people purchase insurance; the House proposal replaces that amount with $361 billion over the decade, or 46 percent less.    

On average the House proposal reduces a citizens’ healthcare tax breaks by over $3,000 annually in rural states like Montana while aging policyholders face colossal out-of-pocket increases.

The House proposal allows insurance companies to charge older Americans significantly more for premiums than current law.

The House proposed tax credit for aging taxpayers living in rural America is unreasonably low relative to the actual cost of purchasing health insurance.

If Tester and Daines won’t increase the healthcare tax breaks offered to fixed-income, aging Montanans under the House proposal maybe they would allow citizens aged 50 and over to buy into Medicare early, infusing younger customers into the elderly pool.

Congress must move past cheap campaign rhetoric and make time to govern.

Montana has a month left before the 2017 Legislature adjourns. In the weeks ahead, members will cut final deals, balance the state budget and enact some noteworthy legislation.

Garner’s bills to allow public institutes like Flathead Valley Community College to sell campus-brewed beer and increase the statewide gasoline tax at the pump by 8 cents per gallon are pending.

Perry’s bill to revise some agricultural reporting to the state is headed to conference, where a joint committee of the state House and Senate seeks to reconcile differences.

Tester and Daines enjoy a long history of being able to work together on practical issues facing Montana. Hopefully healthcare hasn’t become so detrimentally partisan that the current law cannot be fixed.

Tester and Daines enjoy more time than the state Legislature. Perhaps time helps find the means to enact a lasting and practical healthcare fix to current law, one that assists more aging people living and working in rural places like Montana.

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