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Medicaid bill heading to governor’s desk

Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, taks during a House Rules Committee meeting in Helena in January. Photo by Thom Bridge - AP

HELENA — The House on Thursday approved amendments offered by the Senate to the Medicaid expansion bill, moving the bill to provide health care to more than 96,000 Montanans to the governor’s desk for final approval.

House Bill 658, known as the Medicaid Reform and Integrity Act, passed the third reading in the House 61-35. It had returned to lawmakers for review after it had been changed in the Senate, where it passed 28-22 on April 16.

Those changes include a 2025 sunset and removing a 2.75 percent tax on Montana State Fund workers compensation premiums to help fund the program by increasing a contribution from hospitals. It also calls on the Department of Public Health and Human Services and Department of Revenue to share information to verify qualifications.

Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock called the action “a good day for Montana.”

“We have once again demonstrated that when we put partisan politics aside and come together to do right by Montanans, government can make a meaningful impact in people’s lives,” he said in a news release.

HB 658, sponsored by Rep. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, must pass a third reading before it goes to the governor’s desk for final review.

The governor signed the Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership (HELP) act, in 2015 with a provision for it to sunset June 30, 2019. It was touted as a uniquely Montana solution in which recipients participate in a workplace program to help them get better-paying jobs.

Buttrey said HB 658 increases accountability.

Those include increasing community engagement for members, higher fees for some, eliminating current patient co-pay and requires the Department of Labor and Industry to continue the HELP-Link work force development program and grant programs to encourage employers to hire or train Medicaid expansion participants.

The most recent fiscal note shows an impact of $9.7 million to $14.3 million impact on the state’s general fund.

Some Republican lawmakers have said they opposed it because it puts a burden on taxpayers, allows able-bodied people to participate and benefits hospitals. Some of the GOP have referred to it as “socialism.”

Supporters have said HB 658 saves the state money as opposed to going with another plan. They also note it has brought in more than $600 million each year into Montana’s economy, created nearly 6,000 jobs and $350 million annually in personal income.

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