Montana Looks to Insurance Exchanges After Ruling

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – State officials said Thursday they will continue to implement the federal health care law after the U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold it, a ruling the state attorney general pointed to as proof the lawsuit he declined to join was a waste of money.

Montana insurance commissioner Monica Lindeen said the state will help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services establish Montana’s health insurance exchange, since the Republican-led state Legislature last year rejected a plan for Montana to design its own.

The insurance exchanges will be a place for about 18 percent of Montanans who are uninsured to buy coverage from private insurers with the help of up-front federal tax credits.

“I’ve been working hard to make Montana’s voice heard as the federal government implements the law,” Lindeen said. “Now that the constitutional argument is settled, I will continue to make Montana’s voice heard and work with the next legislature to maintain as much state authority as possible.”

Lindeen expects private insurers will begin submitting to her office next summer the plans they propose to sell on the exchange, in advance of a fall deadline to do so. The exchanges are supposed to be operating in 2014.

Attorney General Steve Bullock said the high court’s decision on Thursday shows the lawsuit against the law was a waste of money, vindicating his decision to keep Montana out of it. Republican critics have blasted the Democrat for not joining a case they believed would be successful.

“As I have said all along, adding Montana’s name to the list of states wouldn’t have done anything but cost Montana taxpayers money,” Bullock said. “The lawsuits filed against the health care reform bill ended up in front of the Supreme Court and Montanans, like all Americans, will be governed by this ruling. We just didn’t have to spend any money litigating it.”

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus helped write the health care law during a turbulent summer and fall of 2009 and pointed to the benefits of it, such as ensuring that young adults can remain on their parents’ health insurance and preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

State Republicans said Thursday they will keep working to undo the health care law.

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, who is seeking U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s seat in the upper chamber on a platform heavy with criticism of Obama administration policies, noted he was the only member of the delegation to oppose the health care law.

“For the vast majority of Montanans who never supported President Obama’s health care law, and who made their opposition obvious to anyone willing to listen, this unfortunate decision makes the November election all the more important,” Rehberg said.

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