The Obama administration gave final approval to Montana’s Medicaid expansion plan, making the Big Sky State the 30th U.S. state to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or what is colloquially referred to as “ObamaCare”. Medicaid expansion won easy support from Montana’s Democratic Governor Steve Bullock, but it took a perilous path through both Republican controlled chambers of Montana’s legislature. In April, moderate House Republicans hammered out a deal with Democrats to pass a compromise version of expansion on a close 54-46 vote.
The compromise Medicaid expansion bill requires recipients to pay a small premium of up to 2 percent of their income in order to take part in the program. However, for the program to be enacted it needed approval from the Obama administration. On Monday, the administration signed off on the proposal, making thousands of additional low-income Montanans eligible for Medicaid benefits.
This agreement will bring much needed access to healthcare coverage to more than 70,000 low-income Montanans.
With the administration’s approval, Montana joins 29 other states in extending Medicaid to households that are barely above the federal poverty line. Families that earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for the program. For a family of four, households that make less than 33,000 annually qualify.
Montana’s Medicaid expansion program is not perfect. In order to get Republicans to sign on, Democrats were forced to accept a program where beneficiaries have to pay up to 2 percent of their income to enroll in the program. Nevertheless, the compromise is a far better solution than leaving families in need uninsured, or putting them at the mercy of profit-hungry insurance companies that charge low income households much more than they can afford to pay.
With Republicans dominating both Houses of Montana’s legislature with solid majorities (59-41 in the House and 29-21 in the Senate), getting Medicaid expansion passed was a monumental accomplishment for the state’s outnumbered Democratic Party. Even though they were forced to yield some minor concessions, the party prevailed in defeating the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, the tea party wing of the legislature, and other conservative groups who tried to kill Medicaid expansion. On Monday, the Obama administration put the crowning touch on Montana’s Medicaid expansion, delivering a victory to the state’s Democratic Party, but more importantly, also a victory for low-income Montanans needing affordable health care coverage.
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.