HELENA – Rob Quist, the Democrat candidate for Montana’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, says more than $27,000 of unpaid debts and property taxes – which he paid off within the last year – stem from financial problems caused by medical and other costs from a botched surgery 20 years ago.

“The main story here is that these are things that the people of Montana go through on an every-day basis,” the musician and songwriter told MTN News Monday. “I can’t tell you the number of benefits that I’ve played for people who have had similar things happen.”

The Associated Press and the Billings Gazette first reported the debts last week, including $15,700 in unpaid property taxes and penalties and another $11,700 in other debts.

The state Revenue Department filed tax liens against Quist and his wife, Bobbi, in 2015 for unpaid taxes, penalties and interest for tax years 2007, 2011 and 2012. The couple paid off the balance last year.

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The Quists also couldn’t pay a line of credit with Wells Fargo Bank and faced two other judgments from collection companies, in 2014 and 2014. Quist said he has paid those debts, too.

Quist said complications from the gall-bladder surgery in 1996 have led to an additional three surgeries, including one in 2011 that he said cost him $50,000, because he had dropped his health insurance earlier when he couldn’t afford it.

“We were having trouble covering all of our bills,” he said in an interview. “So I made the decision, maybe not a wise one, to not have health insurance. That was a gamble.”

Quist said health insurance had become too expensive and that his pre-existing health condition made it difficult to find coverage at all.

Beginning in 2012, the Quists tried selling part of their property south of Creston to keep up on their bills.

Two years later, they sued US Bank and a title and mortgage company in 2014, saying errors on the property boundary and legal description of the property had made it impossible to divide and sell it. Quist said he couldn’t talk about the suit because a settlement is under way.

Quist, 69, is running in Montana’s May 25 special election to fill the vacancy created when Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke resigned to become U.S. Interior secretary under President Trump.

Quist said he’s been upfront about his health issues and finances and is discussing the issue at public events, using them to emphasize how the U.S. health care system needs reforms so that average people don’t get stuck with huge debts because they get sick.

“Who better to stand up for the people of Montana than someone who has lived life on the ground, and faced the same issue?” he said. “To me, that’s the thing: Affordable health care should be a right of American citizenship.

“That’s why I’m in this race, because this is something that we really need to talk about.”

Quist says he supports the 2010 Affordable Care Act and that it should be strengthened, rather than repealed.

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