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2 opponents to Medicaid expansion in Montana appointed to oversight panel

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HELENA, Montana — Two of the biggest opponents of Medicaid expansion in Montana are going to be members of the panel that oversees it.

Gov. Steve Bullock and legislative leaders released Friday their picks for a nine-member Medicaid expansion committee.

GOP leaders picked two vociferous opponents of the measure, Bozeman Rep. Art Wittich and Bigfork Sen. Bob Keenan, to represent the conservative caucus. "We won't be sitting in the committee meetings with pom-poms," Keenan said.

Democrats chose Ramsay Rep. Pat Noonan and Helena Sen. Mary Caferro.

Bullock appointed Benefis Health System CEO John Goodnow; Northern Rockies Medical Center CEO Cherie Taylor; deputy state auditor Jesse Laslovich; Tara Veazey, Bullock's health and families policy adviser; and David Mark, a primary care physician.

Bullock also gave the sponsor of the new law, Sen. Ed Buttrey, one of four non-voting seats at the table. "Our leadership in the Senate is farther right than I guess they think I am," Buttrey said.

The moderate Republican from Great Falls was sidelined by Senate President Debby Barrett, who instead chose Keenan, a finance specialist experienced in public health and human services.

"I think Mr. Buttrey has a caucus within our caucus, and that's who he reports to and keeps informed," Barrett said. "The majority caucus needs to be aware and kept in contact, too."

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Jon Sesso said he fleetingly considered appointing Buttrey to the committee, but he knew it was more important to choose someone from his own party. "I believe that Sen. Caferro will be a great advocate for making sure the bill gets implemented in the manner agreed to," Sesso said.

Other non-voting members include Heather O'Loughlin, co-director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center; Kevin Howlett, tribal health and human services director for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes; and Barbara Schneeman, public information officer for RiverStone Health.

The committee will determine how to pay for the program, reduce Medicaid fraud and increase access to mental health services, among other things.

Keenan said he has accepted that the bill he voted against four times this session has become law, but he will continue to look at it with a critical eye. He wants answers on the total cost of the program, dubbed the Montana Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership Act, also known as HELP.

The U.S. government must still approve Montana's expansion plan. Some federal officials worry the measure will impose significant cost-sharing and premiums on people with very low incomes. Keenan shares some of those concerns.

"How is HELP going to be implemented, for instance, on the Rocky Boy Reservation where there are limited job opportunities?" Keenan said.

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