Gianforte, Quist

Gianforte, Quist

HELENA — While Montanans don’t have a vote in the U.S. House, where the bill to replace the Affordable Care is working its way through the process, the candidates to replace former U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke have plenty to say about the legislation.

“I believe that Obamacare needs to be repealed and replaced,” said Republican Greg Gianforte, seeking the congressional seat vacated by Zinke's ascendance to Interior Secretary. “It’s beyond repair. It’s in a death spiral."

Gianforte, a technology entrepreneur from Bozeman who failed to unseat the incumbent Democrat in last year’s gubernatorial race, is up against Democrat Rob Quist, a political newcomer from Conrad best known as a banjo player and member of the Mission Mountain Wood Band.

Gianforte said that under the Affordable Care Act, premiums have doubled and Montanans can’t afford it. Last year the cost of some plans on the federal marketplace went up as much as 62 percent, though 85 percent of Montanans who purchase insurance there receive a premium tax credit that will offset the rate increase.

“We need to repeal and replace with a plan that will lower premiums and increase access,” he said.

But that doesn’t mean he’s throwing his weight behind the bill in front of Congress now.

“The process is just starting in Washington. It’s clear to me changes need to be made to this proposal."

Gianforte stressed that he doens’t want to see anyone lose health care under Medicaid, the state-federal program for those who earn low incomes. “You can’t rip the carpet out from people who have coverage," he said.

But he added that the state’s cost burden to pay for Medicaid expansion, which covers those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,000 a year, is something he worries is too high.

Quist also thinks the bill before Congress now is not the answer.

“It’s going to kick millions of Americans off of health insurance and increase the cost for many in Montana. There’s no doubt the cost of health care is rising but you don’t want to fix it by repealing the progress we’ve made," he said.

Quist said he believes every citizen has the right to affordable health care and that attempts to fix Affordable Care Act have been stonewalled by Republicans.

Saying that a back injury sustained while baling hay once almost financially sunk his own family, Quist said costs need to come down.

“I can’t tell you the number of benefits I’ve played for,” he said, for people who need to pay off medical bills.

Any meaningful change would include more transparency in the cost of medical care and prescription drugs, he said.

And while Quist has said before he thinks the single-payer system is the best way to go, on Friday he said he’s not sure it can be accomplished.

“I think it’s going to be hard to get there at this point in time. We need to look at fixing the system that’s in place.”

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Reporter covering statewide issues for The Billings Gazette.