HELENA — Republican critics of a proposed ballot measure to expand Medicaid coverage in Montana said Thursday it should be disqualified — even if supporters made a language fix suggested by Attorney General Tim Fox.
Matthew Monforton, a Bozeman lawyer who wrote Fox about the problems this week, said the ballot measure still appropriates money, which is prohibited by the Montana constitution.
He said once the latest version of the initiative reaches Fox for legal review, he’ll make the same argument and ask Fox to declare the measure “legally insufficient” and keep it off the ballot.
“If this is enacted, it will tie the hands of the state to appropriate money for the expanded Medicaid program without authorization by the Legislature,” Monforton said.
Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, who co-signed a letter to Fox this week making similar arguments, also said Thursday those arguments still apply.
“It doesn’t matter what the effective date is; it’s still an appropriation, saying we’re going to (spend the money),” he said. “It triggers this (spending) happening.”
Supporters, however, disagreed, and said if the measure gets on the November 2014 ballot and is approved by Montana voters, it does not force the Legislature to approve funding for the expansion.
The expansion would extend Medicaid coverage to some 70,000 low-income Montanans, financed mostly by the federal government and starting next year.
Kim Abbott, president of the Healthy Montana Initiative, said it merely expands eligibility for Medicaid. If the measure passes and a majority of the 2015 Legislature doesn’t want to expand Medicaid or authorize the money, it can vote to repeal the expanded eligibility, she said.
Fox, a Republican, told initiative supporters Wednesday he thought the measure could appropriate money without the Legislature, because it had an effective date of Nov. 4, two months before the 2015 Legislature convened.
He suggested they change the effective date to July 1, 2015, and supporters agreed, refiling new language late Wednesday. The proposal now goes through another legal review by Fox and other state officials, before backers can attempt to gather enough signatures to place it on the November ballot.
Monforton, however, said changing the effective date doesn’t fix the proposal’s legal problems.
The initiative, if passed, would expand eligibility for Medicaid — and federal law says if someone is eligible for Medicaid coverage, they must be covered and the money spent on that coverage, he said.
Expanding eligibility essentially forces appropriation of the money, which can’t be done by initiative, Monforton said.