(Bloomberg Politics) — Montana’s Republican-led legislature voted to expand Medicaid this week, taking the state one step closer to providing health insurance to an estimated 46,000 low-income residents.
The vote happened after four hours of testimony from supporters of the bill—including hospitals—and testimony from Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) opponents organized by Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch-backed conservative advocacy group, according to Kaiser Health News.
In a statement released after the vote, AFP’s Montana State Director Zach Lahn wrote:
“We are deeply disappointed in the legislature’s decision tonight to expand Medicaid. This decision stands directly against the voices of millions of Montanans who have made it clear that they do not want more Obamacare.”
The problem: Montana has a population of 1.023 million, according to the latest Census data.
Montana’s PPACA Medicaid expansion supporters have been quick to point this out, and have accused the group of dropping into the state to derail the expansion without having genuine ties. In recent weeks, the group has held town-hall meetings across the state. The Great Falls Tribune reported last month that Lahn organized the town halls in cities whose state representatives refused to promise to vote down the bill. Bullock—who has been meeting with Republicans in the legislature throughout the year to work on a deal—pointed out that a real “grassroots” organization would know that Montana is a very sparsely populated state.
For example, on Friday AFP tweeted that “millions of Montanans’ hard earned $ will go toward higher insurance premiums thanks” to the state’s Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock and President Obama. AFP released a statement Saturday morning to the Great Lakes Tribune stating that two mistakes—their use of “millions,” and the Montana House passing the Medicaid expansion—were made.
“Two mistakes were made yesterday. One was in our press release, the other was on the house floor with the passage of Medicaid expansion. The latter mistake will have a devastating impact on state budget and the lives of Montanans who have made it known that they reject Obamacare. Our organization and our 14,000 Montana activists will be holding lawmakers accountable for that mistake in years to come.”
The consolation prize for AFP is that the bill still has a ways to go before becoming a law. According to local affiliate KAJ18, the Montana House has one more vote on Friday, and the Senate has to reconcile one amendment to the bill before sending it to Bullock’s desk. And while Bullock is expected to sign the bill, the state also has to seek approval for the expansion from the federal government. But the law’s largest hurdles are likely behind it, even if there aren’t millions of Montanans around to notice.
Montana is proposing an altered version of the Medicaid expansion proposed by the federal government and requiring recipients to pay 2 percent of their income towards premiums. Other states, including Arkansas, have enacted similar plans, which have to be approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
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