Opinion: Health care improvements thwarted by politics

Kyle Schmauch 2017, Insurance, Legislature, Op-ed, Press Release

By: Matt Rosendale

Too often, real policy improvements get drowned out by political talking points. That is the case right now as nearly all of the health care discussion in Montana is about one flawed health care bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the 2017 legislative session, we saw unprecedented bipartisan action to improve health care. Representative Rob Cook (R-Conrad) carried an important bill to allow my team at the State Auditor’s office to pursue a waiver from the federal government and create a reinsurance system that would have stabilized our insurance market and lowered costs. It passed the Montana House unanimously before politics got involved.

Representative Amanda Curtis (D-Butte) sponsored a great bill to require transparency in health care prices and let patients share in the savings by finding procedures for lower costs from different hospitals. Senator Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls) carried another bill that would have empowered Montanans with the ability to know the cost of health care procedures.

Another bill, by Senator Cary Smith (R-Billings), would have allowed Montanans to contract directly with their doctors for services. Representative Nancy Balance (R-Hamilton) carried a bill to include Montana in a compact with other states to protect citizens’ control over health care decisions. Two more bills would have helped small businesses provide health insurance to their employees and allowed Montanans to shop out-of-state for affordable health insurance.

Tragically, Governor Bullock vetoed all six bills that landed on his desk. These bills would have made health care more accessible and affordable, but Bullock chose to obstruct the Legislature and hurt Montanans struggling to make ends meet.

Governor Bullock’s refusal to allow Montana to improve its own system makes it all the more important that Congress repeal Obamacare, and do so responsibly. I’ve told key congressional leaders that they need to fully fund cost-sharing reduction payments to stabilize the 2018 insurance market and that Obamacare repeal needs to lower costs, give states more flexibility, and give consumers more options to meet their individual health care needs.

Health insurance costs in the United States are on an unsustainable path. I’ve heard from hundreds of Montanans who are paying thousands of dollars every year for their health insurance coverage, and thousands more for deductibles before their insurance provides any benefit. I’ve spoken at length with Senator Steve Daines about these issues, and he’s working hard to address these problems. Even Senator Jon Tester is now admitting that things are “wrong” with Obamacare and that “we didn’t make the modifications” to fix the problem.

I’m glad to see Senator Tester admits that when he cast the deciding vote to pass Obamacare, the law that no one had read was critically flawed from the outset. I’m also glad to see he’s admitting that he and the rest of the national Democrats did nothing to address these problems and that reforms are way overdue. But Senator Tester needs to do more than just speak, he needs to take action, especially after Governor Bullock thwarted bipartisan health care improvements here in Montana. We can work together to solve these problems and make health care better for all Montanans, but for that to happen, the political obstruction must end.

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Matt Rosendale, of Glendive, is Montana’s State Auditor, also known as Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.