The latest proposal to expand health insurance coverage for the working poor is scheduled for a legislative hearing Friday. Senator Ed Buttrey unveiled his Senate Bill 405 Monday. One component of the plan is expanding Medicaid.
The Republican from Great Falls calls this bill a bi-partisan compromise bill. He says during the drafting stage he met with Republicans and Democrats, including the governor, as well as industry officials and others.
"I think that with all complex legislation I think if you're going to put in that much time and try to find a solution you need to know what people are thinking," Buttrey said.
Buttrey is calling his plan "The Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership" or the "Montana HELP Act." Besides providing insurance for the working poor it also contains elements of personal responsibility.
"With opportunity comes accountability," says Buttrey. "The HELP Act rewards healthy behavior, penalizes those who hide assets, requires payment of premiums and co-pays at all levels of income, and provides for strict consequences for non-payment."
This proposal, like the 3 other GOP bills, would accept federal money offered under Medicaid expansion.
"And I think that's important because I think we all agree it's important to bring the money that Montanans are paying into the system back to Montana," Buttrey explained.
Buttrey's plan would offer Medicaid coverage to those who earn below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The bill also would offer participants help toward getting a better paying job and moving off of the state-federal health care system for the poor or disabled, and onto either employer offered health insurance or to the federal health insurance Marketplace, commonly referred to as ObamaCare.
Buttrey estimates 45,000 Montanans will seek coverage under House Bill 405 if it is signed into law.
"What we ended up with is what we believe is a non-partisan, long term solution that will ultimately address what we stated are the two most pressing issues in Montana, access to healthcare and a path out of poverty for our poor."
The Governor's Medicaid expansion plan died in the House Human Services Committee. Democrats were unsuccessful in trying to bring that bill to the floor for debate.
Governor Steve Bullock was out of the office but issued a written statement that he believes his Healthy Montana Act is still the best approach, but that this isn't about whose bill is passed. Bullock went on to say this bill would bring our tax dollars home to expand health care to 70,000 Montanans and throw a lifeline to rural hospitals.