A Montana newspaper reported today that Representative Dale Mortensen of Billings has left the Legislature, with no sign that he will return, to deal with an undisclosed health concern. Despite his absence, Representative Mortensen is still receiving over a thousand dollars a week in pay and per diem money, along with his state-provided health care coverage.
And he absolutely should continue to receive his health care coverage, despite Republican efforts this session to take healthcare away from other Montanans who may be too sick to work. Throughout the session, the leading Republican plan to “overhaul” Medicaid coverage in Montana has rested on the premise that those receiving benefits need to show “skin in the game,” even though the work requirements proposed would drastically cut Medicaid coverage and lead to massive surveillance programs that would be both intrusive and costly to operate, shifting government funds from sick Montanans to out-of-state corporations more than willing to swoop in and profit from monitoring the behavior of people receiving health care coverage.
The most recent report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities makes clear that, despite rhetoric suggesting the bill has changed, Buttrey’s proposal will cause “tens of thousands” of Montanans to lose coverage, with much of the lost care affecting those most vulnerable:
In addition to those who will likely lose coverage due to reporting requirements, many won’t be able to meet the 80-hour-per-month work threshold because of seasonal employment or because they have chronic health conditions that are hard to manage. Other groups, such as American Indians, are disproportionately likely to be unemployed, in part because they’re likelier to live in areas with limited job opportunities. For those who are working, between jobs, or looking for a job, losing access to health coverage may make it even harder for them to work.
It would be uncharitable of me to focus on the fact that Representative Mortensen, who is still taking taxpayer money for work he won’t do, argued that he opposed Medicaid Expansion because of his concerns for taxpayers. It would also be wrong. It seems to be a small measure of a civilized society to acknowledge that there are times when people simply are too sick or struggling to make ends meet and need a helping hand to get through difficult times. I’m happy that Representative Mortensen has access to insurance. I believe everyone should.
I certainly wish Representative Mortensen a full recovery, and I wish Montana Republicans who are bent on denying health care to 33,000 of their fellow Montanans might take this moment to think about what it would mean for those thousands to lose access to health care. While they’re at it, they might also give some thought to the idea that every worker in the state, not just those who work for the Legislature, could benefit from paid medical leave.