Uncommon Ground

Unhealthy Fiasco

None of the Republicans' six bill versions increase access to health care and none make insurance cheaper for aging and rural Montanans

Last week, Montana Sen. Steve Daines voted with the majority in a narrow 51-50 vote to begin floor debate on how best to repeal the nation’s current health care laws.

Quickly thereafter Daines voted for the failed bid to repeal the current law and replace it with a plan that would rip health care from 22 million American citizens.

Daines voted for the failed effort that decreases federal Medicaid funding and health insurance tax credits over $1 trillion over the decade. That whopping health care loss would have included billions in federal dollars to Montana.

In a statement following Daines’ vote, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said, “It is stunning that Congress is voting to advance a healthcare plan that will rip healthcare away from millions of Americans, send insurance premiums sky-rocketing, and bust our state budget.”

President Donald Trump previously promised “insurance for everybody,” yet Senate Republicans like Daines interpret that to mean everybody except one-sixth of the nation.

That’s not a surprise. Daines had supported a full repeal without replacement of the current health care law that would take health care from 32 million Americans and return us back to the days when preexisting conditions and lifetime benefits caps were a reality.

Recently asked by Montana news sources, Daines indicated his continued support of full health care repeal.

No one fully knows how all the secret health care shenanigans will play out, either politically or practically. Many remain hopeful that Republicans send the health care back to committee to find compromise and solutions with moderate Democrats.   

But more likely the Senate passes a lite but rhetorical version of reform that will enable the bill to move to U.S. House concurrence or a conference committee.

In a conference committee only a few men again know the final deal sent back to each chamber of Congress for final consideration.

Soon, Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte will cast a health care vote. Gianforte previously opposed House versions on health care that took care away from 23 million Americans.

Yet history is proving that many politicians will say anything and vote exactly the opposite.

Republicans have introduced six versions to repeal current health care law. None of the six versions increase access to health care and none make insurance cheaper for aging and rural Montanans.

Back in early 2014, Daines indicated on Montana Public Radio his support to cut over $700 billion from Medicaid. Today Daines votes to fulfill that promise yet it remains uncertain if more moderate Republicans are willing to slash health care funding.

For his part, Montana Sen. Jon Tester has sponsored seven bills that all aim to lower the cost of health care for Montanans.

A Tester bill creates permanent reinsurance programs for the sickest Marketplace enrollees. Another aims to lower the out-of-pocket cost and stabilize markets with federal cost sharing.

Tester introduced a plan to keep medicine prices under control. Tester introduced a bill to ensure Montana gets our fair share of federal Medicaid funding.

Tester has a plan to bring more doctors to Montana and reimburse residency programs at Critical Access Hospitals. Another requires insurance to cover birth control and preventative care like cancer screenings.

Tester’s latest proposal provides tax credits to Montanans to help pay for health insurance. He hopes to double the income eligibility threshold so Montanans earning up to $96,500 annually get tax cuts.

This is a huge benefit to farmers and working Montanans alike as the bill caps the out-of-pocket cost of health insurance premiums.

Maybe Tester introduced these approaches as amendments to the Republican plans on the Senate floor. Republicans could learn a thing or two from Tester on how to govern in a rural state like Montana.

Hopefully Republicans have a change of heart or can’t find the votes to gut Medicaid. Either way, the Republicans’ approach to healthcare is a fiasco.