More than $500K already behind pro-Medicaid expansion initiative effort

Posted at 4:00 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-05 15:03:55-04

HELENA – A coalition of health-care and other groups already has spent or raised more than $500,000 toward qualifying a ballot measure that would extend Medicaid expansion in Montana and raise tobacco taxes to help pay for it.

The money – at least one-third of which has come from Montana hospitals – is behind Initiative 185, which would raise the state tax on cigarettes by $2 a pack.

The measure also would extend Montana’s Medicaid expansion, which provides government-funded health coverage to 94,000 low-income adults and is set to expire in July 2019.

Medicaid expansion, funded largely by the federal government, is paying for hundreds of millions of dollars in medical bills in the state.

The state will have to pay for 10 percent of the program’s cost by 2020.

I-185, if passed, would provide up to $26 million a year in new revenue to cover the state share of Medicaid expansion – but that amount won’t cover the state’s full cost, which is estimated at anywhere from $50 million to $100 million a year by 2020.

To qualify for the November ballot, the initiative needs signatures of at least 25,468 registered voters statewide. Supporters of I-185 have until June 22 to submit petitions with the minimum amount of verified signatures.

The group formed to support the initiative, Healthy Montana for I-185, reported last week that it has raised nearly $220,000 for the signature-gathering effort and that its members had spent another $305,000 developing or promoting the measure.

MHA, the state’s main hospital lobby, gave $150,000 toward the effort and contributed another $39,000 of staff time and other resources.

Other large contributors to the effort included the Montana Tobacco Tax Exploration Committee ($93,500), the American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network ($63,000) and a pair of Montana-based labor unions (MEA-MFT and SIEU 775 Quality Care Committee, combining for $44,500).

The group reported spending money on polling, legal services, a campaign manager and a signature-gathering firm.