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The Billings Chamber of Commerce and the Big Sky Economic Development Authority have again urged the Legislature to accept federal money to expand Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

In a letter to legislators, the two agencies also advocate for reforming the Medicaid system by having a private company manage the program. The two agencies also endorsed Medicaid expansion during the 2013 session.

“The Chamber and Big Sky EDA (Yellowstone County’s economic development agency) work very closely with the Billings health care community,” says the letter, signed by Chamber CEO John Brewer and Steve Arveschoug, BSED’s executive director. “This collaboration has produced world-class health services and facilities that serve Yellowstone County and a large regional population. Health care is an economic driver in the Billings area, employing more than 13,000 workers in Yellowstone County and generating more than $641 million in total annual payroll.”

Brewer and Arveschoug said that Medicaid expansion would provide health insurance for more than 7,200 Yellowstone County residents.

Statewide, expanding Medicaid would provide health insurance to 70,000 Montanans, including 9,000 veterans. Many recipients of an expanded program are parents who work in lower-paying jobs that don’t provide health insurance as a benefit, Brewer and Arveschoug said.

“The cruel irony is that their incomes are too high to qualify for traditional Medicaid and too low to qualify for insurance on the health insurance marketplace,” the letter says.

Expanding Medicaid, a cornerstone of the national Affordable Care Act, has been a priority for Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat.

A bill supported by Bullock and legislative Democrats would accept millions of dollars in federal money for Medicaid expansion but it directs the state to hire a private company to administer claims filed by Medicaid recipients.

Republicans have introduced their own plan for providing medical insurance to the poor, but their plan wouldn’t use federal money.

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