Advocates Resubmit Medicaid Expansion Proposal

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Advocates for Medicaid expansion have resubmitted their proposal for a ballot initiative in the November election after the state’s attorney general raised legal concerns about the previous version.

It is the third time since November that organizers have filed the Healthy Montana Initiative to the Secretary of State’s Office for review before they can collect the signatures needed to place the proposal on the ballot.

Under the proposal, federal money available through the new 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 health care overhaul that expands Medicaid is optional for states. Last year, the state Legislature rejected an expansion, prompting the push for a ballot initiative.

The initiative’s backers decided to withdraw their plan and filed the new version Wednesday after meeting with Attorney General Tim Fox’s staff this week, Fox spokesman John Barnes said Thursday.

The attorney general’s analysis concluded that the previous version would have appropriated money if it passed, and only state lawmakers can appropriate money, Barnes said.

The last version had an immediate effective date, which means new Medicaid enrollments would have begun immediately after the election, causing money to be spent before the state Legislature could designate funding.

Fox’s staff recommended changing the effective date of the proposal and to make it clear that funds are not being appropriated by the initiative.

“We said with these two changes, the appropriations issue goes away,” Barnes said.

Lee Newspapers of Montana first reported the legal glitch in the proposal.

Kim Abbott of the Montana Human Rights Network, the initiative’s main backer, did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

The new version of the proposal is under review by the Legislative Services Division, Secretary of State spokeswoman Terri McCoy said. When that is completed, it goes to Fox, who has 30 days to conduct a legal review.

That will leave initiative backers with a shortened timeline to gather signatures, which are due June 20.

The backers must gather 24,175 signatures, which is 5 percent of the voters in the state.

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