Bullock touts economic impact of Medicaid expansion

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock Wednesday touted a report outlining the economic impact of Montana of expanded Medicaid – and said it’s “critical” that the program be continued past next year.

The expansion, which is providing government-funded health care to 94,000 low-income adults in Montana, is set to expire in July 2019.

The 2019 Legislature could vote to extend Medicaid expansion, but the state’s hospitals and other health-care organizations have proposed a ballot measure that would ask voters to extend the expansion and fund it with a tobacco-tax increase.

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The proposal has yet to be approved for gathering of signatures needed to qualify it for the 2018 ballot.

Bullock said Wednesday he thinks the voter-initiative would be “a great way” to extend the program – but that he also doesn’t see why the Legislature wouldn’t vote to continue it.

“I am hopeful that we’ve gotten beyond the divisive rhetoric and actually look at what works, and I think that Democrats and Republicans can agree that this has worked for Montana,” he said at a Capitol news conference. “I’m confident that this report demonstrates that Medicaid expansion works for Montana, and it’s absolutely critical that it continues.”

The report, commissioned by a pair of Montana health-care nonprofit foundations and authored by the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research, says the expansion is creating 5,000 jobs and $270 million of additional personal income in the state.

UM researchers presented their preliminary findings to a Medicaid-expansion oversight panel a month ago.

The study said Medicaid expansion paid for more than $800 million of health care in its first two years. The 2015 Legislature authorized the program, which began offering coverage in 2016.

Expanded Medicaid coverage is available to childless adults earning up to about $16,600 a year, for a single person, and $22,400 for a couple. It’s part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”

The federal government pays about 95 percent of the costs now, but will lower that level to 90 percent by 2020. The state must pay the remaining share.

A coalition of moderate Republicans and minority Democrats passed the Medicaid expansion bill in 2015.

The study was commissioned by the Montana Healthcare Foundation, based in Bozeman, and the Headwaters Health Foundation of Western Montana, based in Missoula.

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