Senate Votes For Bullock’s Healthcare Proposal; GOP moderates break ranks

by Cowgirl

The  Montana Senate today voted to move forward with a bill by Sen. Dave Wanzenried (SB 395) to reform and expand the Medicaid program in Montana to working poor people–people whose employers don’t provide health benefits or don’t pay enough for people to afford to buy it on their own.  The expansion program is called Access Health Montana.

Now the more conservative House must approve it as well.

Republicans have been hesitant to support the idea until now, even though it would mean billions of federal dollars for Montana.  This is not surprising.   Using government spending to create jobs (one of the Democrats’ strongest arguments for this proposal) is something that Republicans are claiming they fundamentally oppose,  (though not when it comes to highway funding or farm subsidies apparently). So a few moderates joined in with the Dems, and the bill passed.

That hasn’t stopped many GOP legislators on the right wing from doing what they do best–spread misinformation.

During debate, for example, Sen. Art Wittich revealed that he has a most embarrassing lack of understanding of the bill–or perhaps he just decided to openly lie about it.

Wittich claimed there was “no cap” to the Medicaid expansion –that it would be infinitely costly for the state.  That’s false.  Eligibility is capped at 138% of the Federal Poverty Level – that means it’s limited to people who make less that that amount, about $15,000 for a single person.

He also made the ludicrous statement that instead being benefited by a Medicaid expansion, the uninsured should simply “use welfare” to buy health insurance.  That’s not possible.  Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF)–what Wittich calls “welfare”– is only for people with kids.  It’s also temporary (hence the name).   Families can only get the benefits for a limited time.  There is no possibility of it being used for a purchase of health insurance.

Unlike TANF, Access Health Montana (the Medicaid Expansion plan that the Senate voted up) is not limited to people with kids.

Thankfully, a few GOP Senators looked into the facts of the matter, rather than relying on  Wittich’s fibs.  Llew Jones, Taylor Brown, Bruce Tutvedt, Ed Buttrey, and Jim Peterson are all Republicans who voted for the bill.  All Democrats voted yes.

These Republicans made a smart choice.  Access Health Montana is the only way to keep federal healthcare dollars in Montana now that Obamacare is the law of the land.  If Montana doesn’t expand Medicaid, our federal tax dollars will go to the other states that do–instead of being spent here in Montana to boost our own economy.

That would translate to a $700 million annual loss to Montana’s future Gross Domestic Product. This probably doesn’t mean much to TEA Party dunces, but the GOPers with basic economic sense get that the expansion of Medicaid would add an additional 1.7% to Montana’s GDP for the next eight years.  For context, understand that a 1.7% addition would roughly double the expected GDP growth rates for the next several years in this state.

The Medicaid expansion also helps states deal with some of the things Republicans say they don’t like about Obamacare.

For example, it protects small local hospitals and rural health care centers from federal cuts.  Keeping the doors open to Montana’s rural hospitals means keeping jobs in their districts from being eliminated, and allowing rural Montanans access to medical care for which they would otherwise have to drive many hours.

It would also protect Montana employers from what the GOP calls “Obamacare penalties” – tax increases.  The Affordable Care Act levies a tax on any company that employs 50 or more workers that does not provide workers with health insurance.   This tax is alleviated or eliminated for many employers if these same workers can now get Medicaid.   A recent private-sector report by Jackson Hewitt estimated that Montana companies will face an additional $10-15 million in tax penalties without the Medicaid expansion for this very reason.

Finally, Repubs who bothered to inform themselves about Bullock’s proposal know that Montana can do a trial run of the idea.  For three years while the federal government is paying for 100% of the cost of benefits, Montana can opt-in to the expansion and see how things work.  When the state is asked to start picking up a meager portion of the cost (the most states can be asked to pay is 10% and even then not until 2020),  Montana has the legal authority to roll back the extension to the way things are now.

For these reasons, I expect that once Republicans have a chance to think about it this will pass the state House, with perhaps a few minor edits to increase the emphasis on reform. Certainly it doesn’t hurt that the GOP’s major electoral engine, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, has endorsed the idea too.

And don’t forget that an earlier version of Bullock’s proposal, HB 590, by Rep. Chuck Hunter has already received a majority of more than 50 votes on a (procedural) vote in the house.  This latest version with its increased emphasis on reforming Medicaid and room for GOP input will be able to pick up more votes.


17 Comments on "Senate Votes For Bullock’s Healthcare Proposal; GOP moderates break ranks"

  1. thank you!!! this was a very well written explanation for us lay people on a complicated

  2. (whoops, con’t) issue before the Legislature. I am in admiration of those R’s that have stood up for common sense when it seems to be that common sense is not only lacking, but fully shunned, within their Grand Old Party.

  3. Grandma Jeannie | April 3, 2013 7:03 AM at 7:03 AM |

    A lot of the major papers in Montana have come out in support of this including the Gazatte.

    I don’t get how in the city of Billings, where the medical complex is the major economic driver of the whole area, there are actually legislators who voted against this.?! I thought there were lobbyists from the hospitals who were supposed to he explaining this to these lawmakers . If these folks aren’t able to make there own local reps understand that they are voting against the economy in their own towns, perhaps they should gt off their lazy bums and get to work!

  4. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers. | April 3, 2013 7:32 AM at 7:32 AM |

    GOD SAVE THE BIG KOCKHS! Wow! The fealty of Sen. Jason Peeps and his poodle, Sen. Fart Fetish, to their masters, the Big Kockhs, is truly touching! Such loyalty is rarely seen outside of feudalism! I guess it comes from NEVER HAVING WORKED A REAL F*CKING JOB in their pathetic little lives!

    You see, sitting on your ASS in your little law office is NOT like actually WORKING for a living! Wonder how long little Sen. Fart Fetish would last at a REAL job?? Hod carrying or such?

    These two Kockh poodles wear their Kockh collar proudly. And that’s too bad for the REST of us, for what is good for the Big Kockh is NOT necessarily good for Montana!

  5. Ya mean there are people in Helena on the R side of the aisle that have some brains? Jeff Assmann is not one of them. This dipshit would throw his mother under a bus to make a buck and feed his ego. I know because he is my Senator and has never voted for anything productive and in the best interests of all Montanans unless it feathers his own nest of course.

  6. Grandma Jeannie | April 3, 2013 8:23 AM at 8:23 AM |

    When is Essmann going to be term-limited out? If there was ever a legislator that needed to be primaries by a Main Street republican Essmann is it. I thought that since he ran for governor maybe that was because he was about to be term limited but maybe not. He is in John Bohlingers old seat for crying out loud- that’s not a conservative district.

  7. Some Rs have this brilliant idea of not increasing Medicare but giving poor folks enough money to buy their health insurance on the exchange. Where the money will come from in the state budget is a mystery, how the program will work is unknown, what it would cost is up in the air, but, damn it, it is REPUBLICAN idea.

  8. In wittich’s own words:

    I like how the word responsible is in quotes. we know who wittich answers to, and it’s not the people in his district.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers. | April 3, 2013 6:01 PM at 6:01 PM |

      “While many folks in Helena are focused on the different ways to spend your tax dollars, there are some of us who are focused on finding ways to make sure you keep more of your money and give less of it to grow government”, Sen. Fart Fetish.


      Hey, Fart, you’re a greedy LIARWYER, dude! You could GIVE two shits about people keeping their own money! You’ve been suckin’ off the Big Kockh money for so long, your brain has turned to mush!

      Get a real job, loser. Liarwyerin’ is NOT a real job, dufus! Come work with me some day, dink, and we’ll see just how long you last! You’re a one-o’clock wonder fer sure! The dudes who leave at lunch, puke, and then sneak home!!!

  9. I hope that democrats aren’t worrying about the fact that GOP “leadership” is opposed to Medicaid. They don’t need the leadership’s support, all they need is a few members of the rational wing of the GOP to vote with the dems. The leadership is of course going to take a position or not against the bill, and if democrats waste their time focusing on them instead of persuadable more rational Repubs than this thing will fail.

    I hate to be cynical about such things, but I’ve heard a rumor that this is what some dem legislators have proposed doing (meeting with GOP leadership) and that is not where the work needs to be done.

  10. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers. | April 4, 2013 9:46 AM at 9:46 AM |

    Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone, esPECIALLY the GF Spitoon! We would never want the TRVTH getting out. It’s bad for business.

  11. I gotta say Kudos to the Republicans, who Have broken ranks….. for Medicare Expansion, you are saving peoples lives…. But what really disgusted me was Debbie Barrett our representative voted against it.

    Her Grand father was a doctor so prominent in our area, that the hospital here is named after him. he cared for everyone no matter what mpney they had and believed in a Healthy Beaverhead County. He also believed in Affordable care. Debbie Barrett slams her very name, and her grandfathers legacy

    Hell even Jeff Welborn voted for expansion. Glad the lady is termed out especially if she votes against Family planning!!!.

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