Health Care Fight Continues After Session Ends

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — The Montana legislative session may be over, but Medicaid expansion advocates say the fight to get health insurance to the working poor will continue.

Advocates and Gov. Steve Bullock are considering their options after the Legislature killed the governor’s bill to expand Medicaid to up to 70,000 Montanans who cannot afford to purchase health insurance.

Bullock hinted at calling the Legislature back into special session, but said Friday he’d first let the dust settle before deciding on a course of action.

Montana Human Rights Director Kim Abbott said her group and others are considering organizing a voter initiative to put expansion on the 2014 ballot.

Critics of Medicaid expansion say Bullock may not have enough votes to pass the bill in a special session.

State Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, said he doubts Montana’s voters would support such an increase in government spending, but that support will depend largely on the messages the public hears about the expansion.

Bullock has been silent on the prospects of a ballot initiative. This session, he criticized Republicans for passing legislative referendums that bring bills straight to the voters and sidestep the legislative process — and his possible veto.

But he has said all options to get Medicaid expansion through are on the table.

Abbott said she would prefer to see the Legislature called back for a special session to expand insurance coverage as quickly as possible. Two years for a ballot initiative is a long time to wait for Montanans who need access to affordable health care immediately.

“I think the choice here is black and white,” she said. “The Legislature can come back and get this done, or we can go to the ballot and there will be a two-year delay.”

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