Expanding Medicaid saves money, creates jobs and lowers the cost of health care. That's a plan that upholds values legislators on both sides of the aisle share. So it was disappointing to read a recent opinion in this paper by two of our colleagues that didn't cover the full range of this program’s benefits to our state.

As legislators, our common goals are managing tax dollars responsibly, creating jobs, and expanding Montana’s already growing economy. As part of Access Health Montana, Medicaid expansion gives legislators an opportunity to meet all three of those goals. Here’s how Medicaid expansion will help meet our responsibility to create a stronger economy and fiscal stability.

Many states across the country, with Republican and Democratic governors alike, are embracing Medicaid expansion because it’s good fiscal policy. Montanans expect their leaders to spend the people’s money on lean, efficient programs that return real value to our state – and that’s exactly what expanding Medicaid will do.

Turning down this opportunity would mean that Montana taxpayers would still foot the bill. In the words of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, the most recent state to embrace expansion, “Failure to go through with expansion means that Michigan tax dollars will go to cover health care costs for other states that do take part.”

Creating jobs

Expanding Medicaid would create as many as 12,700 jobs annually, according a recent study by the Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Those jobs would bring a further $4 billion to the state – money that hardworking Montanans spend on Main streets across the state, bolstering small businesses and the families who own them.

What’s more, these new positions are likely to be good-paying, 21st century jobs in the health care field – one of Montana’s fastest growing sectors. Expanding Medicaid will help Montana’s health care industry stay ahead of the curve and compete with the rest of the country.

Keeping costs low

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Other states are figuring it out: Medicaid expansion not only provides access to thousands of low-income residents, but also provides an economic boon. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, in announcing her support for expansion, confirmed that Medicaid expansion will help “maintain the viability of rural and safety net hospitals feeling the pinch from growing costs of uncompensated care.”

We couldn't agree more. Some 60,000 Montanans could access health care for the first time under this plan, making sure they don’t have to go to the emergency room for routine, preventative care. Expanding Medicaid will greatly reduce the cost of uncompensated care, which providers pass on to the rest of us in the form of higher insurance premiums.

Sometimes we may disagree about how to build a stronger economy, create jobs, and lower the cost of health care, but we know these are goals legislators on both sides of the aisle share. If we pass on the opportunity to expand Medicaid, the people of Montana will lose jobs, tax dollars, and better health care to states like Michigan and Arizona.

Instead of a squandering an opportunity to build an even better Montana, let’s move forward with a focus on our shared goals and the compromises that will help us reach them.

Jon Sesso of Butte is Montana Senate minority leader, and Chuck Hunter of Helena is House minority leader.