It was just a matter of time before the tobacco lobby, in league with Montana Republicans, went after the “Healthy Montana” initiative.
Known as I-185, the initiative would continue the funding of Medicaid expansion, which sunsets in Montana in January, 2019. It covers 94,000 lower-income Montana adults. Revenue for the program would come from a tax on tobacco products.
Over 40,000 signatures were gathered before deadline last friday. If and when county election offices verify the signatures, it would appear on the November ballot. There’s a previous post on I-185 at this very website.
Big Tobacco is already threatening an aggressive campaign against the initiative. It’s going to spend big bucks on TV. One angle will be pitching “exorbitant” hospital CEO salaries as an argument against the initiative. The reasoning behind this diversionary tactic is to make hospitals look awash in money that could be better spent on the impoverished. There will be other mendacious media campaigns. This makes the Montana Hospital Association leadership nervous, and MHA is a key sponsor of I-185.
A few days before the signature gathering deadline Republicans, in the form of state Sen. Ed Buttrey (R-Great Falls), suggested that I-185 be pulled as Republicans were working on a legislative solution. The Montana GOP is proposing ‘work requirements’ and a tobacco tax at $1.25 instead of the initiatives’s $2.00 a pack. (Work requirements to get health care?)
Buttery also hinted at a special session to tackle expanded Medicaid funding. He’s turning the initiative into a political football, hoping it becomes partisan so blame can be laid at the feet of Democrats if the regressive Republican Medicaid legislation fails (or pin the loss of Medicaid expansion on the governor if he vetoes their bill).
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a Medicaid funding fix would even make it out of a legislative committee.
(It should also be noted that Republicans attempted the same ploy with I-186, the initiative to deny permits for hardrock mines that may require perpetual treatment of polluted waters. Republicans say they’ll address this, along with I-185, in a special session or at the 2019 legislature. Right. Republicans figure if they can take these initiatives out of the people’s hands, they can placate their corporate sponsors with watered-down bills.)
It appears that threats from Big Tobacco and Montana Republicans over the Healthy Montana initiative didn’t prevail, yet, as the signatures for I-185 were submitted by deadline. Be prepared for a continued onslaught of attacks by both tobacco interests and the Montana GOP as this initiative, and others, wend their way to the November ballot.
Heaven forbid that lower-income Montanans have health care.