Montana Politics

When a Progressive State Senator Supported a Hobby Lobby-Like Bill Matt Rosedale Now Runs for Senate On


I again want to make it abundantly clear that I have respect for everything State Senator Mary Caferro has accomplished during her career in Montana politics. Her stances for disabled Montanans and to keep the Department of Health and Human Services afloat have been integral to improving the lives of many, many Montanans. She pushed for an Earned Income Tax Credit in Montana and Representative Tom Jacobson of Great Falls carried it across the finish line 2017. For me, that was one of the great Democratic caucus accomplishments of that trying session. It also shows progressive leaders other than her can carry and pass the progressive legislation she has championed.

After the last questions I wrote about some financing Senator Caferro had accepted this election cycle, I received an email from someone who shall remain anonymous that I confirmed with a former state legislator. It is indeed troubling.

I think voters need to understand that someone who does amazingly decent things can also take votes that are not in line with the values of their party or personal politics. While I admire and respect Senator Caferro, these things I have come to see scare me. What I just received shook me to my core because it is legislation that national Democrats shrank away from and called out as hate.

What follows is a lightly edited email I received and I will just lay it out there for Helena voters to decide on:


Back in 2013, Senator Mary Caferro, for some reason, introduced a bill that, like its cousin in 2011, had been opposed by almost all Democratic legislators and was summarily vetoed by a Democratic governor.


The 2013 legislation, Senate Bill 181, would have exempted so-called health care sharing ministries from Montana insurance law and basically removed Montana consumers from protection under state health insurance code.


Very odd indeed.


Health care sharing ministries act as clearinghouses to pay for their members’ health care costs. It’s voluntary and faith-based health care. Sick members’ health-care costs are submitted to the ministry, and the monthly “premiums” paid by health members are used to pay for the health-care costs of sick members.


The care covered is dictated by the ministry or other members. Meaning reproductive health care options can be refused in the same manner Hobby Lobby refuses to cover birth control for their employees.


Contraception, fertility treatments, or maternity care for an unmarried mother can all be strictly forbidden.


Versions of these programs allow individual members to decline to cover the health care costs of other members. Meaning if a member of the ministry objects to the needs of another member, they can decline to help pay for it.


The Huffington Post described health care ministries like so…


“These plans are not insurance and the law does not treat them that way. They are voluntary arrangements for people who agree to certain conditions, such as abiding by Christian faith, or forswearing alcohol and smoking. They generally do not pay for services that violate religious tenets, such as abortion or maternity coverage from pregnancies out of wedlock.” Huffington Post, 3/9/2018

And Buzzfeed in an investigative report wrote…

“The Affordable Care Act was written in part to ban certain discriminatory practices that led to people being denied insurance coverage. But health care sharing ministries have retained the right to discriminate, either by not sharing certain costs or by requiring more of certain members they deem unfit. For example, health care sharing ministries uniformly refuse to share costs related to self-inflicted injuries or suicide attempts — an issue that has also plagued traditional insurance companies, despite a health care privacy law requiring them to do so. Nor will they share needs related to fertility treatments, contraception, or, in some cases, injuries related to acts of war.” Buzzfeed, 6/1/2017


Almost all Democratic legislators in 2013 voted against the measure in the Senate and House, and Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed Caferro’s legislation that had received support from the Republican majorities in both chambers–the Republicans who voted for this bill on which she was the PRIMARY SPONSOR include Elsie Arntzen, Art Wittich, and Matt Rosendale. Caferro’s measure also was opposed by the Montana State Auditor’s office, which regulates health insurance. Jesse Laslovich of the Democratic State Auditor’s office said in Senate committee testimony that the bill was “not good policy,” was worse than the 2011 health care sharing ministry bill, and noted that Caferro’s measure would strip consumers of health insurance protections under state insurance law and prevent the agency from investigating complaints.


Bad, or not good, policy indeed.

While Caferro’s bill easily passed the House and Senate with overwhelming Republican support, it was vetoed by the governor.

“Senate Bill 181 puts Montana consumers at risk by creating a loophole in the insurance code for any entity calling itself a health care sharing ministry,” Gov. Bullock wrote in his veto statement in 2013. “This is a problem Montana has seen before. In 2007, a case was presented in the First Judicial District of Montana, in which a minister had a serious heart condition that required extensive medical treatment. His health care sharing ministry refused to pay, claiming the individual had an undisclosed preexisting condition. The evidence presented in the case made it clear and the court ruled that the ministry was essentially an insurance company operating without a license. This effectively removes the protection that keeps health care sharing ministries from acting like unregulated insurance companies. By exempting these ministries from the same regulations governing other insurers, SB 181 opens the door to fraud and abuse. The bill does not prevent health care sharing ministries from operating in Montana so long as they do so in compliance with the same laws governing other insurers. If enacted, it would distort the charitable purpose of health care sharing ministries and leave Montanans vulnerable. Because SB 181 is unnecessary and creates a loop hole in the insurance code which puts consumers at risk, I respectfully request that you sustain my veto.”


In 2011, Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed Billings Republican Cary Smith’s House Bill 30, which would have exempted health care sharing ministries from regulation as an insurance company.


“I issue this veto because I believe this legislation authorizing health care sharing ministries to operate in Montana exempt from Montana’s insurance codes and without any regulatory oversight raises an array of very serious consumer protection concerns,” Schweitzer wrote in his  HB 30 veto statement. “Under HB 30, health care sharing ministries would be authorized to operate in a regulatory vacuum with no accountability. These ministries are not health insurance, but, unfortunately, and the reason they run contrary to consumer interests is that participants rely on them with a false sense of security as a substitute for their health insurance needs, unaware of the pitfalls and liabilities to which they are exposing themselves.


“In the end, my opposition to HB 30 lies in the fact that I believe it is contrary to the interests of Montana consumers. Health care sharing ministries offer no guarantees of protection when the time comes to pay members’ health care costs, and we all know that health care coverage is an essential need of Montanans. While some individuals may garner some benefit from these ministries, when weighing the benefits against the pitfalls on the scale of consumer protection, I believe the balance clearly tips against sanctioning the marketing of health care ministries in Montana exempt from our state’s insurance codes.”


A Senate override of Schweitzer’s veto failed.


The irony of all this is that State Auditor  Matt Rosendale, a Republican now running for the U.S. Senate, just a year ago welcomed these unregulated health care sharing ministries to Montana.

“A previously banned way to pay for health care costs is now available in Montana,” the Helena Independent Record reported on April 3, 2017.

“Matt Rosendale, commissioner of securities and insurance, announced on Monday that Medi-Share, a health care cost-sharing program, can operate in Montana. Christian Care Ministry Inc., had been banned from operating in the state after a 2007 District Court opinion found the company was selling insurance without registering in the state.

“After a 2007 civil lawsuit filed by a pastor who said the program would not pay for expenses related to a heart condition, a Helena jury ordered Medi-Share to pay $850,000. The organization paid the medical bills after the pastor filed a civil lawsuit, according to then-insurance commissioner John Morrison.

“To qualify for coverage, potential members must meet several requirements including attesting ‘to a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.’ ”

“According to the Medi-Share website, a church leader may be interviewed to verify their testimony.

“Members must also agree to live by biblical standards and live by a healthy lifestyle, which includes not using tobacco or illegal drugs.

“Members must also only ‘engage in sexual relations within a Biblical Christian Marriage,’ according to the Christian Care Ministry website. Maternity medical expenses for newborns conceived outside of marriage are ineligible for sharing, according to the website, with rape reported to a law enforcement authority the only exception.”

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • Another political hit piece on Mary Caferro. You couldn’t be more blatant about it. Do you have to report this as an in-kind campaign contribution to Rob Farris-Olsen? Why do my fellow Democrats so love to eviscerate each other during primary campaigns? Maybe you could take some advice from (gasp!) Ronald Reagan: “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally – not a 20 percent traitor.”

    • Len, I’m surprised you did not reply to the piece, based on your experience as a respected former journalist, by refuting the claims made with well-researched facts. Instead, you chose to become a partisan in a primary campaign—and thus negating the main premise of your comment. I’m not sure this approach gets us very far.

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Josh Manning

Josh Manning is a combat veteran who lives in Helena. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Time and Newsweek and he has appeared on MSNBC and CNN. He was a primary researcher to the recently published New York Times bestseller "The Plot to Destroy Democracy" by MSNBC analyst Malcolm Nance. You can follow him on Twitter @joshuamanning23

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