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HELENA - A number of Republican-backed health care bills, many aimed at decreasing regulation of the health insurance industry, gained support in the Montana Legislature on Tuesday.

The House backed Senate Bill 418, which is meant to prevent the federal government from requiring Montanans to purchase health insurance. The measure from Art Wittich, R-Bozeman passed on a 65-34 vote.

Supporters said the bill lets Montanans make a statement against the federal health care overhaul. They said people should have a freedom to choose their health insurance.

Opponents said states don't have the authority to override federal laws, and said posing the questions to the voters would give them the wrong idea.

"I think putting this in front of the voters is disingenuous at best," said Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena.

The Senate endorsed a similar measure on a 28-22 vote later in the day.

Lawmakers have been cold to the idea of addressing the federal health care overhaul at all this session. Democrat and Republican measures to set up a state-regulated health insurance marketplace have been shot down in committee, and on Tuesday, the House voted to not study what to do about the federally mandated insurance exchanges.

The Senate backed Senate Bill 445 to allow the purchase of out-of-state insurance policies that don't meet Montana's health care mandates. The bill, backed 26-24, also allows some in-state insurance providers to not follow the state's health care regulations.

Montana has restrictions against taking into account things like sex or marital status when pricing health insurance.

Supporters said the measure helps drive health insurance costs down for some by letting companies take into account all available factors for low risk people.

Opponents said the bill is against the important equality protections in Montana law and could be disadvantageous to local insurance companies.

A measure to allow sex to be considered in insurance plans has already cleared several hurdles on its path to the governor's desk.

Senate Republicans also moved forward with a plan to tinker with a voter-approved children's health insurance plan, a move minority Democrats say would make it harder for people to enroll in the program. The measure was backed on a 26-24 vote.

Also Tuesday, a constitutional referendum to say there is no state right to an abortion or to have it publicly funded failed to get the two thirds vote needed to go to the ballot. The plan cleared the House with 66 votes and needed 34 votes on the Senate floor. The Senate voted 29-21 for the measure.

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