HELENA — Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Thursday his proposed state budget includes health coverage for an additional 80,000 low-income Montanans starting in 2014, through an expansion of Medicaid.
The proposed expansion of Medicaid, the state-federal program that pays medical bills for the poor, must be approved by the Republican-controlled 2013 Montana Legislature before it can occur.
Gov.-elect Steve Bullock, a Democrat, also hasn’t signed on to the idea, and has not indicated whether he’ll keep the Medicaid expansion in the budget he submits to the Legislature in January.
Still, Schweitzer’s statement of support for the federally financed Medicaid expansion in Montana puts a spotlight on the issue, and potentially places it squarely in the court of Republican lawmakers next session: Will they accept the expansion or not?
If the Legislature refuses to accept the federal money to expand Medicaid, Schweitzer said, “those 80,000 people won’t have health care paid for, and they’ll just go to the emergency room, and they’ll get health care, and all of the rest of us who have private insurance will have to pay more because they just shift that cost.”
Schweitzer turns over his office to Bullock in January, but is required by law to submit a budget for the 2014-2015 biennium.
Incoming Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, declined Thursday to comment directly on Schweitzer’s Medicaid expansion proposal, saying he’ll wait to see what Bullock proposes.
The Medicaid expansion is part of the federal health-reform law passed in 2010, known as the Affordable Care Act.
The law said all states must expand Medicaid in 2014 to cover everyone up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, currently about $20,000 for a family of two. The feds said they would pay for the added cost of the expansion from 2014-2016, and then reduce its share down to 90 percent by 2020, leaving states to pay the rest.
The U.S. Supreme Court in June, however, said the federal government cannot force the states to carry out the expansion, giving the states the option to decline it.