One day after a lengthy floor battle to free a Medicaid expansion bill from committee, the Montana House on Thursday endorsed the measure, voting 54-46 to accept millions of federal dollars to extend subsidized health coverage to thousands of low-income Montanans. "I think this is the right thing to do, it's the right time to do it," said Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad, who carried Senate Bill 405 on the floor. "Let's pass this bill."
At this point a year ago, Medicaid expansion in Montana looked like a lost cause, but in early May 2014, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) started arranging some "non-publicized" meetings on the issue. The Democratic governor saw a possible opportunity to advance the policy, so he started quiet negotiations with state Republicans and private-sector stakeholders.
"I think there are a lot of folks trying to come up with a solution," state Sen. Ed Buttrey (R) said at the time.
A year later, that solution appears to be within reach. The Missoulian reported yesterday on striking progress among state lawmakers (thanks to my colleague Laura Conaway for the heads-up).
Note, the Montana state House is run by a Republican majority, but on this issue, it was 41 members of the Democratic minority, joined by 13 GOP lawmakers, who prevailed.
The local report added, "If the state Senate accepts the one amendment attached Thursday by the House -- a likely prospect -- the bill goes to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock for his signature."
And there is no real doubt the Montana Democrat would sign the bill into law.
Estimates vary on exactly how many low-income Montanans would receive coverage through the proposal -- I've seen estimates ranging from 27,000 to 70,000 -- but the benefit to state finances and state hospitals is undeniable.
Also note the national context: if Montana policymakers follow through, the state would become the 30th to accept Medicaid expansion and its benefits, coming on the heels of Indiana's breakthrough earlier this year.
As we've discussed before, those who continue to argue that states should reject the policy out of partisan spite – regardless of the benefits for families, regardless of the needs of state hospitals, regardless of the effects on state finances – are facing headwinds that are only growing stronger.
States can only hurt themselves on purpose for so long before madness ends.