I-185, the state ballot measure that would raise tobacco taxes in order to continue Montana’s Medicaid expansion, has state lawmakers from both parties concerned.
At a bi-partisan panel on I-185 hosted by St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula on Friday, Republican Ed Buttrey called the ballot measure a “lose-lose” for moderates in the state legislature who want Medicaid expansion to continue.
Buttrey sponsored the bill to enact Medicaid expansion in 2015. He thinks it’s been good for the state and needs to continue, albeit with some reforms. He said if the ballot initiative passes, state lawmakers won’t be able to do that.
"I-185, if it passes, literally the far left is going to be in control," Buttrey said.
Buttrey says I-185 would handcuff state lawmakers, preventing them from making tweaks to Medicaid expansion to make sure the state can continue to afford it going forward. He worries that the tobacco tax proponents say would fund Medicaid expansion would diminish over time, and Medicaid expansion would become a permanent burden on state taxpayers.
"So, it passing, is to some degree for the legislature a lose," Buttrey said. "If it fails, the far right’s in control, and they’ll be able to say ‘The public doesn’t want this.’"
Montana’s Medicaid expansion is set to expire in 2019, and before I-185 got on the ballot, state lawmakers who support expansion were working on potential new laws to keep it going. Buttrey was optimistic that would’ve worked.
Democratic Senator Diane Sands, also on today’s panel, agreed with Buttrey that the best course for continuing Medicaid expansion is for state lawmakers to hash it out. But she says she’s going to vote for I-185.
"Because it is the measure in front of us that will reflect the public’s commitment to continuation of expanded Medicaid and making sure that 100,000 people get the care that they currently have," Sands said.
Sands says ballot measures often offer over-simplified solutions to complex problems, and that voters should trust the people they elect to solve those problems, but, that being said, she’s supporting I-185.