Governor Uncorks Medicaid Expansion Plan

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock said Wednesday that federal money for Medicaid will create jobs in the state and help solve costs associated with uninsured patients, applying pressure to Republican legislative leaders to expand the program.

Bullock unveiled his plan for Medicaid expansion Wednesday, a highly anticipated measure that aims to ensure that most of the state’s residents have health insurance.

It would extend coverage to as many as 70,000 Montanans with federal money. The state would pay only a small share, about $5 million according to early estimates, of the cost under the federal health care law.

The cost of treating uninsured patients is currently passed onto insured customers, Bullock argued. He said the influx off federal money will lead to many new health care-related jobs in the state.

“It is time we set politics aside on this issue,” Bullock said. “As we know, political games are not going to create jobs, it is not going to treat cancer.”

The Democratic governor aimed to head off GOP concerns by adding language to his proposal saying the expansion terminates if federal money for it dries up.

Bullock argued even more Republican governors originally hostile to the idea are now accepting the expansion because it makes good sense for states to do so.

“If even they are trusting the federal government (to pay its share), I certainly can,” Bullock said.

Republican legislative leaders are still worried about the increased reliance on federal money.

Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said the Washington D.C. is this week headed toward another “meltdown” over spending disagreements that could lead to cuts for state-administered programs.

“I am very skeptical the federal government can keep the promises it is making in terms of Medicaid expansion,” Essmann said.

Bullock’s plan, dubbed Access Health Montana, includes several items beyond Medicaid.

The measure would expand the number of slots available for Montana students in out-of-state medical schools, increases payments to health care providers and makes other changes aimed at improving patient care.

The measure will be introduced in the House and carried by Democratic Rep. Chuck Hunter of Helena.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.