A recent Public Radio story about a ballot measure to use federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor left out some important information which left readers with an inaccurate view of what’s really going on.
Republicans are trying to claim that a ballot initiative to make some working poor Montanans eligible for Medicaid will cost more than it actually will cost, but the story misses some important points that show why the GOP’s claims are quite hollow.
The public radio story purports to compare estimates from the Governor’s office and Montana legislature on the cost and savings associated with expanding Medicaid to the working poor. However, the story leaves out the most important points – why the estimates are different, and why the opponents are saying what they’re saying.
Here’s what you need to know:
Republicans say that Montana can’t use savings generated from the extra federal funds coming to all states through the Affordable Care Act to fund the state’s share of the Medicaid expansion.
It’s unfortunate that the Public Radio story fails to mention an important fact related to any story about Medicaid expansion: that Affordable Care Act originally did not make expanding Medicaid optional. The health care reform bill extended Medicaid eligibility in all states–and paid for 100% of the cost of benefits for the first three years and most of the cost thereafter.
The new health care law also says the federal government would pick up more of the tab for states that had already expanded coverage to some people. Many states had already expanded coverage for some adults–even Montana had already expanded coverage for children in 2008.
Later of course, the Supreme Court said states could decide whether to expand Medicaid coverage or not, but it did not strike the part of the bill related to expansion that gave states extra federal funding to cover kids. The Affordable Care Act sent this extra money to states because it intended for them to expand medicaid coverage, so this is the obvious pot of money to use now. MTPR should have included this fundamental piece of information.
Now let’s talk about the complainer-in-chief that MTPR interviews for this story. The man is Fred Thomas, who has had a long career in the insurance industry.
This is an important point because the insurance industry is currently seeking additional concessions, favorable rules, and lenient regulations from Congress and the administration. Unless you live under a rock, you know that insurance companies are screaming like little babies about any and all things related to the Affordable Care Act. It’s a kabuki theater of posturing and criticism designed soften the feds to give in to the industry’s latest demands (and increase their profit margins), and it sheds some light on why Mr. Thomas is trying to manufacture a controversy.
While I don’t expect MTPR to note that Fred Thomas was also the architect of energy deregulation, and therefore known to have little concern for public assets, I’ll note it here as we all know how poorly that turned out.
Finally, it is simply ludicrous to refer to the legislative fiscal division as “the nonpartisan office responsible for analyzing the state budget.”
Perhaps the concept of separation of powers between the branches of government is new to TEA Party legislators, but most people know that the executive branch reports to the Governor, and the legislative branch reports to the legislative leadership: Jeff Essmann and Art Wittich. In addition to not being non-partisan, the legislative staff are also not responsible for creating fiscal notes. That duty is assigned by law to the Office of Budget and Program Planning. And since Montanans did not elect a Republican as Governor, that office does not answer to them, and the GOPers are obviously not happy.
Public radio usually does such great work and I doubt they’ll be pleased to learn that Fred Thomas is trying to make them his pawn. So I’m hopeful that these facts will not be omitted in future coverage.