Ballot Measure Proposed to Expand Medicaid

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Advocates for Medicaid expansion gave state officials proposed language on Thursday for a ballot initiative to put the question to voters.

Backers of the plan have been promising the measure since the Legislature earlier this year rejected expansion.

The Healthy Montana Initiative organizers hope to get approval from the attorney general and start collecting signatures by early next year.

Backers expect they will need more than 30,000 signatures to comfortably qualify the measure for the 2014 ballot.

Under the proposal, federal money available under the nation’s health care law would be used to expand Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. It is expected to provide Medicaid to 70,000 working poor Montanans.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided that the portion of the law that expands Medicaid is optional for states.

Republican opponents argue expansion would leave the state vulnerable to eventually paying a higher share of the cost. The GOP-led Legislature scuttled efforts by Democrats and some Republicans to advance Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposal to take the money.

Supporters say expansion is a key cog in the federal effort to provide insurance to the poorest Americas. Those who earn more than the federal limit have to shop for private insurance on the health care marketplace, often with the assistance of income-adjusted subsidies.

The advocates include AARP of Montana, Montana Human Rights Network, and Montana Nurses Association.

If the measure is approved by voters, it would still be up to lawmakers in 2015 to appropriate several million dollars to pay for the state’s share of the expansion.

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