Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Daines Frustrated with Senate Health Care Bill Secrecy

Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Daines Frustrated with Senate Health Care Bill Secrecy

Article excerpt

Montana Sen. Steve Daines has joined other Senate Republicans in objecting to the way party leaders are crafting a major health care bill behind closed doors.

Daines told Lee Montana newspapers Friday that he hasn't seen the bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated will get a vote in the next two weeks.

"I have been frustrated with the lack of transparency and the lack of visibility that we are having in this process," Daines said. "I want to see a bill. Put down all these thoughts now in a bill so we can look at it. Then we can really have the best dialogue and conversation once you actually see it in a proposed law. It needs to be posted soon. I hope we get to see it next week."

Daines said for the bill to work for Montanans, it's going to have make health care more affordable. Health care expenditures are on track to become 20 percent of the U.S. economy. People with preexisting conditions are also going to need affordable coverage.

Daines and other Republicans contend that health costs have risen because of the Affordable Care Act passed by Democrats in 2010, though others argue that the health care costs in the United States have been rising for decades. Concern over those rising costs is what made health care reform a key issue in the 2008 presidential campaign and a priority for President Barack Obama.

The ACA became commonly known as Obamacare, a term coined by Republican lawmakers who opposed the policy and vowed to repeal it, which they are now doing.

Medicaid eligibility, expanded to include the working poor under the Affordable Care Act, needs to continue, Daines said, though the portion of the bill paid by the federal government will need to decrease.

"I want to make sure that we would not pull the rug out from Montana from a federal perspective and make sure that we keep our obligation to the states that have decided to expand Medicaid," Daines said. "Whether you agree with Medicaid expansion or not, the bottom line is this: The state has decided to go forward on that, and I believe it's the federal government's responsibility to at least protect Montana through 2019 when Montana's Medicaid expansion program sunsets."

Roughly 79,000 working Montanans with incomes within 138 percent of the federal poverty level -- about $16,400 a year -- have signed up for Medicaid since the state opted for an expansion program included in the Affordable Care Act. The federal government agreed to pay 100 percent of the expanded program's cost for the first three years, with the federal share dropping into the 90s thereafter. Medicaid hadn't been available to the working poor previously.

Daines said Senate Republicans will allow states to continue the expanded Medicaid program -- something House Republicans opposed in their Affordable Health Care Act legislation passed earlier this spring. The level of federal support for the program will decrease over a few years until by 2024 the federal government is paying 68 percent of the costs and states pick up the rest.

Much of the discussion surrounding the future of Medicaid expansion under Republican plans to replace the Affordable Care Act has assumed that expansion would stop in 2019 and that people who have taken advantage of Medicaid expansion would be pushed off the rolls. Daines said that's not what the Senate bill will offer, at least not as it currently exists.

"There are those in the state who I think are putting out information that's not entirely accurate, creating a lot of concern and fears that frankly do not align with where it looks like this bill text is headed at the moment," Daines said.

Last week, the Montana Healthcare Foundation indicated the state would lose $4.8 billion in federal Medicaid funding between 2020 and 2026 under the Affordable Health Care Act passed by the Republican majority in the U.S. House.

That forecast is based on the House AHCA bill and does not reflect what the Senate might propose, said Aaron Wernham, Montana Healthcare Foundation CEO. …

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