MT Medicaid Expansion Bill Mistakenly Thwarted

Despite continued opposition to medicaid expansion from republican leadership in the Montana Legislature, democrats nearly staged a procedural coup to help rescue the expansion bill from committee so that it could be considered on the house floor. The problem? In all the chaos of procedural motions, one democratic legislator voted against the bill – later admitting it was an accident. Rep. Tom Jacobson of Great Falls said he misunderstood what  was being voted on. Subsequent attempts to vote on the motion failed. Republicans hold a 61-39 majority in the House. It is also worthy of note that the expansion bill had evolved over the session into a compromise modeled after Arkansas’s private purchasing model to increase the likelihood of passage, rather than the traditional expansion model. 

The full story from the Missoulian:

A contentious Medicaid proposal to fund private health insurance for thousands of low-income Montanans appears dead at the 2013 Legislature, after House Republicans Friday successfully bottled up the bill in committee.

A move by Democrats to bring the measure to the floor failed by a single vote, with one Democrat later admitting he voted the wrong way. A later effort to undo the first vote failed by three votes.

House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, said Democrats haven’t given up on passing the Medicaid-expansion bill. But he conceded it would be “very difficult to accomplish” at this point, with just seven working days left in the 2013 session.

For now, House Bill 623 resides in the House Human Services Committee – a panel controlled by Republicans who have consistently voted to kill all Medicaid-expansion proposals this session.

It would take 60 votes in the House to bring the measure to the floor for debate and possible passage. Republicans, most of whom oppose the bill, have a 61-39 majority in the House.

House Democrats have tried several times this session to “blast” Medicaid bills from the committee, but have always fallen several votes short.

If HB623 is dead, it marks the end of one of the most contentious issues before the 2013 Montana Legislature.

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, proposed expanding Medicaid to use federal funds to extend government health insurance to 70,000 uninsured, low-income Montanans. He argued that the hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money would not only provide coverage to those who need it, but also create thousands of jobs.

Bullock on Friday blasted those who voted against the bill.

“These legislators who voted to send our tax dollars out of state are going to have to go home and tell (the people) that they stood in the way of lower health-care costs, they stood in the way of good-paying jobs, and they stood in the way of access to affordable health care for tens of thousands of Montanans who desperately need it,” he said.

He also said that “everything’s on the table” during final-week negotiations at the Legislature, but declined to elaborate on how the Medicaid bill might be revived.


Republican leaders at the Legislature have steadfastly opposed Medicaid expansion, saying it will financially burden the state in future years and is the implementation of a giant “welfare program” and “Obamacare,” which they oppose.

Yet earlier this week, a half-dozen Republican state senators teamed up with Senate Democrats to insert a version of expansion into HB623, to use the Medicaid dollars starting next year to buy private health insurance for low-income Montanans.

That bill appeared headed to the House floor Friday for a vote that could have sent HB623 to Bullock’s desk, but House Speaker Mark Blasdel, R-Somers, took the unusual but allowable step of referring an amended bill back to a committee.

Hunter objected to Blasdel’s action Friday morning, setting up a vote on whether to uphold it. The House voted 50-50 to uphold his decision, and a tie vote goes to the presiding officer (Blasdel).

Twelve Republicans had voted to overturn Blasdel’s decision and were joined by 38 Democrats. Yet one Democrat did not: Rep. Tom Jacobson of Great Falls.

Jacobson said later he misunderstood the vote, and thought he was voting to uphold Hunter’s challenge. As confusion reigned over whether Blasdel’s decision had been sustained, the House recessed for nearly two hours, as legislative leaders pored over the rules and their options.

The House finally reconvened shortly after noon and Hunter moved to reconsider the earlier vote, in an effort to overturn it and get the bill back to the floor.

Yet that vote failed 48-52, as four Republicans who earlier had voted to overturn Blasdel’s decision switched and voted against the reconsideration.

The House committee plans to hold a hearing on the Senate amendments to HB623, but it’s clear that the panel has no intent of sending the bill back to the House floor.