- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - With the clock ticking to get a Medicaid expansion bill through the Senate by a March 31 deadline, a Senate committee on Monday stalled in its consideration of the measure.

Members of the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee defeated House Bill 405 by a 6-1 vote after the panel approved several amendments proposed by Republican committee chairman Fred Thomas. He was the only committee member to vote in favor of the bill as amended.

Amendments that passed included changing how an oversight committee would be chosen and requiring a pilot program with behavioral change strategies for those incurring the most Medicaid costs.

Thomas also unsuccessfully moved several amendments that would have ensured the bill’s demise, including one that would have severely limited who would be eligible for coverage. Bill sponsor Sen. Ed Buttrey said the federal government would not approve a Medicaid expansion and provide federal funding under those conditions.

“This is indeed the poison pill,” the Republican from Great Falls said of the amendment.

Thomas, of Stevensville, said his thinking on the proposal was that the federal government should let the state design this plan the way they want.

“At some point I think this will be the case,” he said. “I don’t know when.”

Another failed amendment would have tied the bill’s success to the success of Senate Bill 148, known as the Welfare Fraud Prevention Act.

“So this is blackmail?” said committee member Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy. “That’s what it is.”

After the amended bill went down in committee, subsequent motions to table it and give it an unfavorable report failed, keeping the bill alive for now.

“I’m very frustrated,” Buttrey said after the meeting. “There’s a lot of opportunity to fix a lot of things in the bill but not when it gets stopped. That puts you behind.”

After the governor’s proposal to expand Medicaid was defeated earlier this month, Buttrey unveiled his compromise proposal, which would expand Medicaid to low-income Montanans and require they pay health care premiums and co-payments based on income.

The Montana Health and Economic Livelihood Partnership Act would accept federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to residents, including adults making up to $16,242 a year and a family of four earning up to $33,465.

Enrollees also would be asked to participate in a workplace-assessment survey through the state Department of Labor for the creation of a job-placement plan that could include training.

Thomas said he plans an attempt to refer the bill to a Senate finance committee on Tuesday.

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