Kudos to Sen. Ed Buttrey of Great Falls and all the legislators, Republican and Democrat, who voted in favor of Buttrey’s Senate Bill 405 — a compromise measure that will expand Medicaid health insurance coverage to Montanans making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level — a group of people who otherwise made too much money to be covered under regular Medicaid but did not make enough money to be eligible to sign up for subsidized insurance premiums under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Buttrey’s bill also contains an element of buy-in for those who will be eligible for coverage, requiring them to pay a small portion of premiums and some co-pays. The bill also directs the Montana Department of Labor to set up job-skills training programs that could help these minimum-wage and part-time workers find higher paying, full-time jobs.
The bill also accepts additional federal funding for Medicaid coverage, helping to bring some of Montanans’ tax dollars back from D.C., to main street Montana, where they can help generate economic growth and, of vital importance, help struggling rural Critical Access Hospitals keep their doors open.
Some Republican legislators who opposed this bill said that it would enrich already-wealthy hospitals. Really? We know that some hospitals in Montana’s largest cities are thriving, but the vast majority of small-town hospitals are struggling to stay open and providing uncompensated care is a huge financial strain on them.
Here in Choteau, 42 percent of the people who use Teton Medical Center don’t have insurance — and many of them are hard-working Montanans whose jobs don’t provide coverage and don’t pay enough for them to buy their own. SB 405 will be a life-saver for them and for TMC.
We especially thank and recognize our area Republicans who worked to get this compromise passed: Reps. Christy Clark of Choteau, Rob Cook of Conrad and Roy Hollandsworth of Brady and Sen. Llew Jones of Conrad.
As the Legislature enters its final weeks of business, we would encourage Republicans and Democrats to continue to find ways of working together on bills that are vastly important to our state, including the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribal water compact and Senate Bill 416, the infrastructure bill carried by Sen. John Brenden, a Scobey Republican.
Both of these measures will have a vital, longlasting impact on Montanans, from settling contested water issues in northwestern Montana to providing funding for much-needed infrastructure projects in Montana’s cities and towns. We encourage our legislators to put pure partisan complaints aside and support reasonable bills, regardless of whether they originated with the Dems or the GOP.