Daines’ Office Denies Support for Obamacare Medicaid Expansion

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) speaks during his 2012 U.S. House campaign (photo courtesy of the Washington Examiner).

The office of U.S. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) is denying that the senator will no longer oppose Medicaid expansion going forward after a quote appeared in a Capitol Hill news outlet, where the Republican — and noted Obamacare critic — said that he respects “the decision of our Legislature and our governor on Medicaid expansion.”

In an email to Media Trackers, Daines spokeswoman Alee Lockman sought to clarify the senator’s statement, denying that the Senator was in any way stating his support for an important pillar of the President’s controversial healthcare law, and emphasizing that he will continue working in the Senate “in support of repealing and replacing as much of Obamacare as possible, including Medicaid expansion.”

“As Steve mentioned, he respects that the Montana legislature has made a state level decision on this issue,” Lockman said. “He does, however, have concerns about the long-term sustainability of Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid and is wary of programs that increase the power Washington may have over states. Steve will continue working in support of repealing and replacing as much of Obamacare as possible, including Medicaid expansion.”

This morning The Hill published a piece about Republican Senators who are wary about pursuing the repeal of Medicaid expansion in their broader efforts to dismantle Obamacare. According to the Hill, Republicans in Congress are hoping to place an Obamacare repeal bill on the President’s desk by the end of the year. 30 states have expanded Medicaid so far, and apparently a number of Republicans are concerned that repealing the program would either force many poorer constituents to lose healthcare coverage or force states to bear the full cost of expansion.

Sen. Daines has been a constant critic of Obamacare, with a full “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare important cornerstones in both his 2012 U.S. House campaign and 2014 U.S. Senate campaign.

Given that Montana’s Medicaid expansion plan is set to take effect on January 1, Sen. Daines was one of the senators who was questioned about the issue by Hill reporter Alexander Bolton.

“I respect the decision of our Legislature and our governor on Medicaid expansion,” Daines told Bolton. “I’m one who respects their rights and voices.”

Medicaid expansion has proven to be a controversial issue in Montana, and was arguably the most contentious issue of the last two state legislative sessions. In 2013, the expansion plan passed the State Senate, but failed in the House by a single vote when State Rep. Tom Jacobson (D-Great Falls) mistakenly voted “no.”

In 2015, after initial Medicaid expansion efforts failed, a handful of liberal Republican legislators joined with Democrats to change legislative rules in order to pass a Medicaid expansion “compromise” plan — the Montana HELP Act — sponsored by State Sen. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls), much to the dismay of the legislature’s Republican leadership.

However, as a “compromise,” Buttrey’s plan requires participants to pay a premium — up to 2 percent of their annual income –for their plan. This required a federal waiver from the Dept. of Health and Human Services, which was granted earlier this month. Depending on the estimation, somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 Montanans are expected to be eligible for the program.

Opponents of Medicaid continue to worry about the overall cost to taxpayers and its reliance on federal dollars from an already heavily indebted federal government. Opponents also question the overall effectiveness of the program. While long-term cost numbers for the HELP Act were not made available, the non-partisan legislative fiscal division projected that the initial Medicaid expansion plan before the 2015 legislature would cost Montana taxpayers $246 million over 8 years.