Bullock Says Medicaid Expansion Still Makes Sense

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock said Friday that an expansion of the state’s Medicaid rolls would have brought some assurances amid the turmoil surrounding the health care law’s rollout.

The governor earlier this year backed a plan to expand Medicaid to the working poor earning less than 138 percent of the poverty level. He was opposed by Republican legislative leaders, and the proposal died before lawmakers adjourned.

About half of the states, including Montana, have rejected the Medicaid expansion plans originally crafted as a mandate in the health care law, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it optional for states.

The U.S. government would have paid for most of the expansion as part of the federal health care law’s effort to get everyone covered.

Bullock said his opinion is unchanged by the problems in the implementation of other aspects of the health care law. He said Medicaid expansion would have ensured coverage for thousands.

A day earlier, President Barack Obama tried to shift authority to state insurance commissioners to approve continuation of plans private insurance plans being cancelled with the health care law rollout. State authorities immediately cautioned that the move could make things worse by adding more confusion and costs.

But Bullock said some problems, such as outages on the federal government’s online insurance marketplace, could have been alleviated with a greater state role. Montana rejected plans to run its own website under the federal law.

But Bullock said he doesn’t have any plans to call a special session “any time soon” to expand Medicaid because Republican leaders still oppose it.

“There is no sense in calling a special session until, and unless, leadership is willing,” Bullock said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Art Wittich says “doubling down on Medicaid” would make things worse and expose the state to future costs. He said Republicans nationally, and in other states that rejected, are looking at other ways to provide health care assistance to that low income population.

“Medicaid expansion was one of the three pillars for Obamacare. We are seeing that it is a disaster, and expansion would have also been a disaster,” Wittich said. “People are trying to find these other alternatives outside Obamacare.”

A coalition called the Healthy Montana Initiative has been drafting a ballot measure to ask voters in 2014 if they would like to expand Medicaid.