HELENA, Montana — The Montana attorney general's office has approved changes to a proposed ballot initiative seeking to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor, leaving sponsors to hurry to finalize their petition for final approval before collecting signatures for the November election.
Deputy Attorney General Jon Bennion signed off on the legal review Tuesday after making revisions to the language, and the Secretary of State's Office must give its final approval.
The proposal's sponsors estimate they are still weeks from getting people on the streets to collect the 24,175 voter signatures needed by June 20 to place the measure on the ballot.
"It's more of a time crunch than we expected," said Kim Abbott of the Montana Human Rights Network.
Under the proposal, federal money available through the nation's health care law would be used to expand Medicaid to people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. An analysis prepared by the governor's office estimates nearly 56,000 in the state would enroll in 2016, which would increase to up to 80,000 people by 2019.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act made Medicaid expansion an option for states. The Montana Legislature rejected the idea in last year's session, prompting the ballot initiative.
Attorney General Tim Fox's office, which conducts legal reviews of ballot initiatives, rejected an earlier version that would have appropriated money without legislative approval. Only state lawmakers can appropriate money.
The sponsors revised and resubmitted the proposal, which the attorney general's office approved Tuesday after more revisions. The attorney general's changes included stating that Medicaid expansion is contingent upon the Legislature approving the funding.
It also added a fiscal statement that says the expansion will save the state money for the first two years before Montana is required to pay a portion of the costs, up to 10 percent after 2020.
Bennion said in his letter to the Secretary of State's office that the proposed Medicaid expansion would conflict with another proposed initiative that is under review. That measure calls for prohibiting any funding of the Affordable Care Act.