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Republican Senator pitches new approach to Medicaid expansion in Montana Legislature

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HELENA -

Governor Bullock's Medicaid expansion bill has stalled in the Legislature, but a Republican Senator unveiled a different Medicaid expansion bill on Tuesday that could strike a middle path among previous proposals.

Great Falls Senator Ed Buttrey says his Medicaid proposal could bring new coverage to tens of thousands of low-income Montanans while reducing the poverty that leaves people uninsured.

"As we like to say, the best path out of poverty is a job," Buttrey said.

Senate Bill 405, the HELP Act, would take federal Medicaid funds and expand the program to people making up to about $33,000 for a family of four, or individuals making up to $16,000.

Buttrey says it also calls for personal responsibility.

"The HELP Act rewards healthy behaviors, penalizes those who hide assets, requires payment of premiums and co-pays at all income levels," Buttrey said.

It would also provide incentives to work with a Department of Labor employment program.

"Involvement in this program can lead to a pathway to independence, out of poverty and to self-reliance," Buttrey said. "And the new economic development program will focus on targeting the HELP Act population to existing career needs in the state of Montana and to the newly created jobs in healthcare."

Buttrey says he's had conversations with both Governor Bullock and Republican Leadership about the bill.

Senator Buttrey figures his plan could bring new coverage to as many as 45,000 people. That's compared with 70,000 under the governor's plan. 

Governor Bullock meanwhile issued a statement saying any plan should bring federal dollars back to Montana, expand coverage and throw a lifeline to rural hospitals and he said this plan does that. 

The HELP Act could have a hearing before the Senate Public Health Committee this Friday.

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