By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute
Montana is often mischaracterized as a Red state so it’s forgivable and unsurprising for people to assume in us an independent streak that rejects top-down federal management like that envisioned in Obamacare. But that assumption is too often wrong, making it all the more surprising that our legislature is actually pushing back, and hard.
In fact, Montana is mostly conservative but has deep union roots and is dependent on the federal government for about half our state budget. Both of our senators are liberal and Democrat, as are all of our constitutional officers from the governor to the state auditor. We tend to vote Republican for president, but everything else is a coin toss in any given year.
In 2010 toss brought in solid Republican majorities for both chambers of our biennial legislature, and although they’re turning out to be somewhat wobbly on fiscal issues, they’re taking a hard stand on federal health care “reform” and will likely force the governor to either stand with them against this federal overreach that will, by his own admission, break our state budget, or stand with the liberal wing of his party and wear out the nib on his veto pen. The jury is still out, but we’ll probably see a little of each.
At Montana Policy Institute, we’ve been working against a federal healthcare takeover since 2009 so we’re naturally tracking the bills and trying to add to the conversation here in the state. Here’s what we’re seeing so far. First, at least 25 bills have been introduced relating to or aimed at the PPACA in this year’s legislature. Remember, this is a true citizen legislature that meets for 90 days every two years. Twenty five bills on a single topic is a lot, and reflects the fact that each side sees this as a critical battleground in the war for Montana’s future.
Next, we’re finding that the bills fall into three primary categories: Those that would implement Obamacare; those that oppose Obamacare; and those that propose reforms in their own right, but would probably be overridden by Obamacare’s restrictive provisions.
In the first category, at least three bills sponsored at the administration’s behest attempted to revise statutes or appropriate funds in support of Obamacare and/or create a state exchange. These all died early and inglorious deaths, leaving the Health and Human Services Secretary reportedly seeking ways to implement the law absent legislation. Unfortunately there’s a very good chance she’ll be able to pull that off at least to some degree with the legislature absent for 21 months after this session ends in April, especially since the two bills that would have specifically barred public employees from taking steps to implement the law also died.
The second category contains bills that would explicitly forbid or temper the effects of Obamacare provisions. These include things like HSA, high deductible, and individual insurance inducements designed to level the playing field for non-third party buyers; rejection of mandates through constitutional and statutory provisions; compelling Montana’s Democratic attorney general to join the Florida lawsuit; self directed or privatized Medicaid; requiring state agencies to obtain legislative approval to spend PPACA grants; a prohibition against exchanges; and others. Most of these bills have passed at least one chamber and many will likely pass both; and several are already sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting his decision, including the Florida lawsuit bill.
And then there are several bills that are just good ideas in their own right; things like allowing health care sharing ministries, medical liability reform, allowing policies across state lines, two separate interstate compacts, and a few other odds and ends that refute the “do nothing” accusations of Obamacare acolytes against those who just think it’s bad policy.
There is simply no way to know which, if any, of these bills will actually become law or the enthusiasm with which they will be implemented even if the governor decides not to buck the 57% of Montanans who favor outright repeal, according to recent poll. But it is heartening to see the battle lines being drawn, the good fight being fought, and each side being forced to show their true colors as we enter the 2012 arena.
For Immediate Release
Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research and education center based in Bozeman, MT.
He can be reached at:
67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B
Bozeman, MT 59715