HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock, some Democratic legislators and others have been discussing whether to call a special legislative session next month, to consider Medicaid expansion and other issues, such as funding Bullock’s $45 million plan for infrastructure in eastern Montana.
Yet at least one Republican lawmaker involved in talks about Medicaid said this week it’s a bad idea, and that most Republicans likely would oppose it.
“It’s illogical to have a special session (in June),” said Sen. Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville. “Special sessions aren’t special; they’re a nasty cat. … You throw (Medicaid) into a special session, and it’s not going to come out good, no matter what.”
Even Republicans who’ve been open to the idea of expanding Medicaid in Montana are wary of trying to tackle the issue in a special legislative session.
“I’m just telling them, by God, you better be careful what you wish for,” said Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip. “This can go sideways fast.”
Medicaid is the state-federal program that pays medical bills for the poor. As part of the 2010 federal health-care overhaul, states have the option of expanding Medicaid to cover everyone earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $16,100 for a single person. The federal government would cover most of the expansion cost.
The 2013 Montana Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, rejected proposals from Bullock, a Democrat, to expand Medicaid in Montana.
Since then, health-care and business lobbies, the Bullock administration and some lawmakers have been discussing new Medicaid-expansion proposals for consideration at the 2015 Legislature – or, possibly, by an earlier special session.
Bullock and members of his administration held a conference call Sunday evening with Democratic lawmakers, to discuss the status of Medicaid expansion in Montana. Sources told the Lee Newspapers State Bureau that a special session was part of the discussion.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, at a meeting of the Board of Investments, also confirmed that there is talk about a special session to consider Bullock’s $45 million bonding proposal to build infrastructure for eastern Montana areas affected by booming oil-and-gas development, as well as Medicaid expansion.
“I think there is some discussion about if a special session is called,” he said. “It almost certainly wouldn’t be limited to Medicaid expansion.”
Dave Parker, a spokesman for Gov. Bullock, said Tuesday the governor is still looking for ways to accept the federal money to expand Medicaid to cover 70,000 low-income Montanans.
“He is talking regularly with members of both parties to figure out how to overcome the procedural hurdles and cover 70,000 Montanans,” Park said. “While nothing is predetermined, all options are on the table.”
However, several key Republican lawmakers contacted this week by the Lee Newspapers State Bureau said Bullock hadn’t talked to them about a special session.
The governor can call the Legislature into special session at any time, to address a specific issue. However, once in session, a majority of lawmakers also can expand the session for other issues.
Thomas is part of a Republican lawmaker “working group” on Medicaid, examining possible expansion and reform proposals. The group met Tuesday in Helena.
If the governor calls a special session, Republicans, who control majorities in both houses of the Legislature, might expand it to include other issues important to conservatives, Thomas said.
“We would take full advantage of that opportunity,” he said. “I don’t want a special session, but if we’re stuck with one, we’ll make the best out of it.”
Charles S. Johnson of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau contributed to this story.