- Associated Press - Friday, April 5, 2019

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Hours after a committee tabled a bill that would continue Montana’s Medicaid expansion program, the full Senate assigned it to another panel.

Republican Rep. Ed Buttrey said Friday he expects the Senate Finance and Claims Committee will discuss the bill’s costs during a hearing on Monday.

He believes he has enough support in that committee to move the bill to the Senate floor.

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Safety Committee tabled the bill after a hearing Friday.

Republican Sen. Jason Small, a co-sponsor and committee member, said he moved to table the bill because he believed conservative Republicans on the panel would do so anyway.

The bill has 27 Republican sponsors, including nine in the Senate. Combined with 20 Senate Democrats, it appears the bill should have enough votes to pass. It has already passed the House, and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock supports the program that provides health care insurance for about 96,000 low-income residents.

Buttrey’s bill would continue the Medicaid expansion program while adding a work requirement, improving an asset test, increasing hospital taxes to leverage more federal funding, and requiring that recipients be Montana residents.

Buttrey plans to amend his bill to eliminate a proposed tax on workers compensation insurance premiums sold by the Montana State Fund to help pay for Medicaid expansion.

Three people testified against the bill in committee on Friday, but all said they would support it if the workers compensation premium tax was removed.

Opponents have argued the program is unsustainable due to federal deficit spending and that working Montanans should not subsidize health care for able-bodied residents.

Buttrey has argued if Medicaid expansion ends, low-income residents will still access health care, but will do so with more costly emergency room visits - leaving hospitals to pass on the cost of unpaid care to patients with insurance.

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This story has been corrected to say Small is a senator.

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