Healthcare/Social Safety Net and the 2021 Legislative Session
With a Republican supermajority, this legislative session proved to be more hostile when compared to previous years, especially when it came to programs and resources that many low-income Montanans rely on. Although the wins came in the form of defeating harmful bills that were introduced, the impact they would have made if passed would have been very detrimental to Montanans just trying to make ends meet.
- SB 100, sponsored by Sen. Cary Smith (Tabled) – This bill would have made it more difficult for Montanans to qualify for public assistance programs. These programs and services are essential to maintaining healthy communities and families in Montana, and making them more difficult to access would have caused undue harm to low-income Montanans already struggling amidst a global pandemic. It was tabled in committee, but not after a tremendous amount of opposition in committee hearings from medical professionals, tribal health leaders, and other impacted communities.
- HB 676, sponsored by Rep. Jane Gillette (Tabled) – This bill would have created new eligibility verification requirements for Medicaid and CHIP. It also would have prohibited continuous and retroactive eligibility, all of which would have made access to health coverage more difficult for children and adults. This would be bad policy at any time, but particularly devastating during a public health pandemic. It was tabled in the House and Human Services Committee.
- HB 339, sponsored by Rep. Frank Flemming (Tabled) – This bill would have required child support cooperation for food stamp eligibility. This was another attempt to decrease services and kick people off of food stamps, causing undue harm to low-income Montanans. It was tabled in committee.
Unfortunately, some good bills were also defeated this session, including bills that would have increased the minimum wage in Montana, and bills that would have expanded paid family leave.
- HB 228, sponsored by Rep. Moffie Funk (Tabled) – This bill would have established a family and medical leave insurance act in Montana. Paid family and medical leave allows workers to take time to care for themselves or their loved ones without losing much-needed income or having to leave their jobs altogether. This bill died in committee.
- HB 284 and SB 187, sponsored by Rep. Mary Ann Dunwell and Sen. Mark Sweeney (Tabled) – These bills sought to increase the minimum wage to $15 and $12, respectively. Both bills died in committee.
- HB 235, sponsored by Rep. Tom Welch (Vetoed) – This bill sought to create a nutrition incentive program for SNAP participants, commonly known as “double SNAP dollars.” It passed both chambers but was vetoed by the Governor. Gov. Gianforte cited the cost of the program as the reason for his veto, despite the fact that HB 235 would have only cost $95,000 a year.
- HB 43, sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Knudsen (Passed and signed into law) – This bill will extend insurance coverage for telemedicine and will prohibit contract provisions that impose site restrictions on telehealth so that a previously established patient-health care provider relationship is not required to receive services, this will increase healthcare access to those in remote areas who need it.
- SB 357, sponsored by Sen. Jen Gross (Passed and signed into law) – This bill generally revises requirements related to telehealth, making permanent many of the Medicaid telehealth provisions that were authorized under the state’s public health emergency.
The expansion of telehealth is good for the health of Montana’s tribal and rural communities, both often lacking regular access to healthcare services as compared to other Montanans.
- HB 121, sponsored by Rep. David Bedey (Passed and signed into law) – This bill will require elected official approval of local health board and officer actions.
- SB 108, sponsored by Sen. Doug Kary (Passed and signed into law) – This bill will authorize elected official approval of city/county health board rules.
HB 121 and SB 108 put the health of our communities in the hands of those with no health background. Passing these bills is extremely irresponsible and could lead to devastating consequences for the health of communities that already suffer lower life expectancy.