Gov. Vetoes Changes to Kids’ Health Insurance

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Monday that he is striking down a Republican budget bill that was aimed at restricting a popular children’s health insurance program.

The measure sought to divert money from a main funding source of Healthy Montana Kids, a plan approved by voters several years ago to provide health insurance to more children. Families earning up to 250 percent of the poverty level are eligible to apply.

Republicans anticipated the veto and built a main budget bill that works without the money transfers.

Schweitzer’s veto strikes down a GOP policy statement in the bill that would have made it much easier to remove presumptive eligibility from the program. In the future, that eligibility could have simply been changed by administration rule-making rather than through changes in law, under the proposal.

In vetoing the bill Monday, Schweitzer called it another example of an “incompetent Legislature.”

“This one is a big piece of something,” Schweitzer said of the bill. “It’s being vetoed just because it’s bad policy.”

Schweitzer said about 85,000 children receive help through the children’s health insurance program. That number has grown substantially over the course of the recession.

State Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, said the only real policy loss for the GOP with the veto is the forward-looking ability to curtail eligibility.

“We will have to deal with that at some point in the future,” Lewis said.

Schweitzer has yet to act on the main budget measure, known as House Bill 2. He has said he will use his veto authority to strike out aspects he doesn’t like.

He has been sparring with Republican leaders over a budget deal that has crumbled amid accusations that each has failed to deliver their side of the bargain. This has left the governor free to vet parts of the spending package.

Last week, he struck down a proposal to place a surcharge on businesses buying worker’s compensation insurance through State Fund that Republicans argued was needed to repay an old fund deficit largely created when lawmakers took money out of it years ago.

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