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Montana’s Legislature Could Decide Medicaid Expansion’s Fate

A poll initiative that might have continued funding Montana’s Medicaid growth past June 2019 has failed. But advocates say they’ll proceed to push for cash to maintain the growth going after that monetary sundown.

“We now turn our attention to the legislature to maintain Montana’s bipartisan Medicaid expansion and protect those enrolled from harmful restrictions that would take away health insurance coverage,” said a concession statement Wednesday from Chris Laslovich, marketing campaign supervisor with the advocacy group Healthy Montana, which supported the measure.

The initiative, called I-185, was the one costliest poll measure in Montana historical past. Final fundraising tallies aren’t in but, however tobacco companies poured more than $17 million into Montana this election season to defeat the initiative. That’s greater than twice as a lot money as supporters have been in a position to muster.

Most of the cash in favor of I-185 got here from the Montana Hospital Association. “I’m definitely disappointed that big money can have such an outsized influence on our political process,” mentioned Dr. Jason Cohen, chief medical officer of North Valley Hospital in Whitefish.

The poll measure would have tacked a further $2-per-pack tax on cigarettes. It would have additionally taxed different tobacco merchandise, in addition to digital cigarettes, which aren’t presently taxed in Montana.

Part of the anticipated $74 million in further tax income would have funded continuation of Medicaid expansion in Montana.

Unless state lawmakers vote to proceed funding the Medicaid growth, it’s set to run out in June 2019. If that occurs, Montana would grow to be the primary state to undo a Medicaid growth made beneath the Affordable Care Act.

In September, Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, told the Montana Association of Counties that if the Medicaid initiative failed, “we’re going to be in for a tough [2019 legislative] session. Because if you thought cuts from last special session were difficult, I think you should brace, unfortunately, for even more.”

Republican State Rep. Nancy Ballance, who opposed I-185, disagrees with Bullock’s place. “I think one of the mistakes that was made continually with I-185 was the belief that there were only two options: If it failed, Medicaid expansion would go away; if it passed, Medicaid expansion would continue forever as it was.”

Ballance, who didn’t obtain cash to marketing campaign in opposition to the initiative, mentioned Medicaid growth in Montana will be tweaked with out resorting to a sweeping new tax on tobacco merchandise.

“No one was willing to talk about a middle-ground solution where Medicaid expansion is adjusted to correct some of the things that we saw as issues or deficiencies in that program,” she mentioned. “I think now is the time to roll up our sleeves and come up with a solution that takes both sides into consideration.”

Ballance mentioned conservatives within the legislature need recipients of growth advantages to face a more durable work requirement and means testing, so these with low incomes who even have important belongings like actual property received’t qualify.

In any occasion, Ballance mentioned she suspects that if the initiative had handed, it will have instantly confronted a courtroom problem.

North Valley Hospital’s Cohen mentioned he hopes Montana will go a tobacco tax hike sometime. “We all know how devastating tobacco is to our families, our friends and our communities,” Cohen mentioned. “And I think we also all know how important having insurance coverage is, and so I think people are dedicated to fighting this battle and winning it.”

This story is a part of a partnership that features Montana Public Radio, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Montana Public Radio’s Edward O’Brien contributed to the story.

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