Opinion

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Uncommon Ground

Tester: Public Pressure Matters Greatly

Republicans in Congress want to slash Medicaid and make local hospitals rely more on charity care

Not much makes us madder than taking health care away from foster kids or grandma sitting in the nursing home. Medicaid is the sole payer for 60 percent of Montanans in nursing homes and almost all foster children.

Yet Senate Republicans seek to cut Montana Medicaid by 40 percent or $5.3 billon from 2020 to 2026. That will dramatically affect Montana’s rural hospitals and community health centers.

According to a new poll released by National Public Radio, just 17 percent of Americans approve of the Senate Republican’s health care bill. It had support from 8 percent of Democrats, 13 percent of Independents and 35 percent of Republicans.

Under the Republican Senate approach, 15 million fewer Americans would have health care next year. Twenty-two million fewer over the next decade.

Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has been barnstorming the state meeting with constituents and hosting many live townhalls. Tester must be one of the hardest-working members in the upper chamber of Congress.

Between producing crops at his farm in Big Sandy with a population of 590 people, to working on national farmers’ and veterans’ policy in D.C., Tester has made time to meet with people back home to talk health care.

I watched Tester’s recent Facebook Live event.

Tester has held up to 15 meetings across the state talking issues like health care.

When a 9-year-old kid puts their hand in a meat grinder, Tester said pointing to his left hand, “small rural hospitals are gonna take you in and fix you.” He called the services in our small communities something we absolutely need.

Republicans in Congress want to slash Medicaid and make local hospitals rely more on charity care. If their bill becomes law one in six Americans won’t have access to health care.

That’s the Republicans’ plan. Standing in the way are Fourth of July parades, Congressional recess, and millions of people.

The Senate bill increases insurance premiums for 50- and 60-year-olds. Tester said, “We call that an age tax. Whereas under the old system, insurance companies could ding you three times what they charge a younger person, now under this bill they can charge you five times.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s analysis indicates 40-year-old Flathead residents earning $30,000 annually would see premium increases of $1,390 while 60-year-old locals would see increases of $6,150.

Republicans’ health care plan gives investment incomes over $200,000 a tax break. And Tester said that if you make over $5 million in about eight years you would get a tax break of about $250,000.

The Congressional Budget Office said the Senate Republican approach would cut Medicaid by $772 billion and give that money to the ultra wealthy via tax breaks.

Tester acknowledged that the Republican bill, which was crafted “in a backroom, filled with smoke, steak and cigars,” would reinstate lifetime caps on benefits.

He looked incensed by that Republican approach, saying, “You can pay into your insurance policy literally for a lifetime. You end up getting sick, and when you need your insurance the most, you hit a cap and get thrown off, under this Senate bill.”

Tester serves in the minority of the Senate. He said he would continue working with moderate Republican senators. But real power, Tester said comes from constituents who call and make Montana’s voices heard.

The senator stated that essential health benefits like maternity care could easily disappear.

Tester said mental health, preexisting condition bans, or opioid addiction treatment can all go away in the bill. “Not through legislatures, just governors.”

He can delay, work with, but ultimately cannot stop Republicans. Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines sits in the majority and can fix the health care law any time.

Tester said that Facebook Live does not replace his many “eyeball-to-eyeball meetings” where he can “feel the emotion.” Tester and Daines should bring their eyeballs to the Flathead.

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