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Senate endorses GOP lawmaker's compromise plan to expand Medicaid to low-income Montanans

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HELENA, Montana — Montana senators endorsed a Republican's compromise Medicaid expansion bill Friday after voting to blast it out of committee and onto the floor earlier in the week.

Senators endorsed the amended measure 28-22 on Friday after more than 90 minutes of debate.

"The act intermeshes what I believe is the real solution, which is access to quality health care, ensuring that that health care is affordable and providing a pathway out of poverty for our poorest," bill sponsor Sen. Ed Buttrey of Great Falls told lawmakers.

Buttrey introduced Senate Bill 405 last week after Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock's proposal to expand Medicaid was defeated earlier this month.

The Montana Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership (HELP) Act would accept federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to low-income people but would require them to pay premiums each month as well as co-payments for certain services. Enrollees would also be asked to participate in a workplace assessment survey designed to help people obtain better-paying jobs.

Sen. Eric Moore, R-Miles City, spoke against the bill saying although it is scheduled to sunset in four years, he doesn't believe it will happen.

"This is permanent, there is no backing up from this," he said. "Social programs have never gone backwards."

Mostly due to the copayments and premiums, officials are estimating about 45,000 Montanans of about 70,000 who would become eligible would enroll in Medicaid.

Under the measure, adults making up to $16,242 a year and a family of four earning up to $33,465 would become eligible for Medicaid health insurance.

Republican Sen. Taylor Brown said although he doesn't like the Affordable Care Act, under which this Medicaid expansion would take place, he supports the bill.

"We're in the position now where we send hundreds of millions back to Washington DC and we continue to refuse to use that money for some people who really need it," he said. "This is a Montana solution not being done in any other state."

Buttrey's amendment, which took care of some technical concerns, was the only successful amendment of five proposed, including at least one that would have effectively killed the measure.

Members of the House last week rejected a package of three alternate Medicaid expansion bills that would have expanded Medicaid to far fewer people.

If it passes third reading, the measure will go next to the House for consideration. Bullock has said he supports the bill.

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