HELENA – A Republican proposal to set up a state-regulated health insurance marketplace stalled Wednesday in a House committee, revealing division over the federal health care issue in the party that controls both chambers of the Montana Legislature.
The Obama administration’s health care law calls for state-run health care exchanges that offer people a choice of health plans with a range of coverage levels and pricing. House Bill 620 by Republican Rep. Tom Berry of Roundup had been pitched as a bipartisan compromise before the federal government steps in with its own system.
The bill stalled in the House Business and Labor Committee on a 10-11 vote. Three Republicans voted for the measure.
Republicans legislative leaders have strongly criticized the federal health care plan, saying it’s an unpopular and unfair tax on Montanans. Passionate opponents of the health care law have said Montana should do nothing to endorse the U.S. government’s plan and should challenge the law in court.
But Berry and a few other moderate Republicans deviated from their leadership’s criticism and worked on a plan to set up a Montana regulated exchange in case the federal law is implemented.
Berry’s bill proposed creating a state health insurance exchange that Democrats have asked for, but would also have given insurance companies more power in the regulation of the exchange to satisfy Republican critics of the health care law.
It wasn’t enough to please the strongest Republican critics of the law who saw the measure as supporting an unpopular federal program.
“I don’t care how watered down these bills are because I believe it’s my responsibility to resist them,” said Republican Rep. Christy Clark from Choteau.
“I will not support this nor will I support any part of implementing federal health care,” she said.
Other Republican opponents said the state can wait to take action on the federal health care law and said they will consider supporting a proposal being drafted to study the situation further.
Supporters of the measure said the bill was the last chance for the state to take action on its health care policy.
“You won’t have time to come up with a plan C,” said Democratic Rep. Chuck Hunter of Helena who worked on another bill to set up an exchange.
“I think this bill is our last best hope for setting something down,” Hunter said.
Monica Lindeen, the Montana insurance commissioner, said in a statement that the bill’s failure ensures the federal government will set up an exchange in the state.
“I am disappointed that Republicans have irresponsibly chosen partisan politics over doing what is right for Montana families and small businesses,” Lindeen said.
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