Montana’s Legislature Pushing Back on Obamacare

By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute

Montana is often mischaracterized as a Red state so it’s forgivable and unsurprising for people to assume in us an independent streak that rejects top-down federal management like that envisioned in Obamacare. But that assumption is too often wrong, making it all the more surprising that our legislature is actually pushing back, and hard.

In fact, Montana is mostly conservative but has deep union roots and is dependent on the federal government for about half our state budget. Both of our senators are liberal and Democrat, as are all of our constitutional officers from the governor to the state auditor. We tend to vote Republican for president, but everything else is a coin toss in any given year.

In 2010 toss brought in solid Republican majorities for both chambers of our biennial legislature, and although they’re turning out to be somewhat wobbly on fiscal issues, they’re taking a hard stand on federal health care “reform” and will likely force the governor to either stand with them against this federal overreach that will, by his own admission, break our state budget, or stand with the liberal wing of his party and wear out the nib on his veto pen. The jury is still out, but we’ll probably see a little of each.

At Montana Policy Institute, we’ve been working against a federal healthcare takeover since 2009 so we’re naturally tracking the bills and trying to add to the conversation here in the state. Here’s what we’re seeing so far. First, at least 25 bills have been introduced relating to or aimed at the PPACA in this year’s legislature. Remember, this is a true citizen legislature that meets for 90 days every two years. Twenty five bills on a single topic is a lot, and reflects the fact that each side sees this as a critical battleground in the war for Montana’s future.

Next, we’re finding that the bills fall into three primary categories: Those that would implement Obamacare; those that oppose Obamacare; and those that propose reforms in their own right, but would probably be overridden by Obamacare’s restrictive provisions.

In the first category, at least three bills sponsored at the administration’s behest attempted to revise statutes or appropriate funds in support of Obamacare and/or create a state exchange. These all died early and inglorious deaths, leaving the Health and Human Services Secretary reportedly seeking ways to implement the law absent legislation. Unfortunately there’s a very good chance she’ll be able to pull that off at least to some degree with the legislature absent for 21 months after this session ends in April, especially since the two bills that would have specifically barred public employees from taking steps to implement the law also died.

The second category contains bills that would explicitly forbid or temper the effects of Obamacare provisions. These include things like HSA, high deductible, and individual insurance inducements designed to level the playing field for non-third party buyers; rejection of mandates through constitutional and statutory provisions; compelling Montana’s Democratic attorney general to join the Florida lawsuit; self directed or privatized Medicaid; requiring state agencies to obtain legislative approval to spend PPACA grants; a prohibition against exchanges; and others. Most of these bills have passed at least one chamber and many will likely pass both; and several are already sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting his decision, including the Florida lawsuit bill.

And then there are several bills that are just good ideas in their own right; things like allowing health care sharing ministries, medical liability reform, allowing policies across state lines, two separate interstate compacts, and a few other odds and ends that refute the “do nothing” accusations of Obamacare acolytes against those who just think it’s bad policy.

There is simply no way to know which, if any, of these bills will actually become law or the enthusiasm with which they will be implemented even if the governor decides not to buck the 57% of Montanans who favor outright repeal, according to recent poll. But it is heartening to see the battle lines being drawn, the good fight being fought, and each side being forced to show their true colors as we enter the 2012 arena.

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For Immediate Release

699 Words

 

Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research and education center based in Bozeman, MT.

He can be reached at:

67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

(406) 219-0508

cgraham@montanapolicy.org

First Year Shows “Reform’s” True Costs

By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute and Michael Tanner, Senior Fellow, CATO Institute

In the days before the new health care law passed Congress last year, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that we would “have to pass the bill to find out what is in it.” Well, it has now been a year since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed, and we are now learning what was in it – much to the detriment of Montana taxpayers, businesses, doctors, and patients.

Here’s some of what we now know:

First, you probably will not be able to keep your current insurance plan. Although the president constantly reassured us that Americans would not be forced to change their current insurance plans, that claim increasingly appears untrue.

For example, nearly 29,000 Montana seniors currently participate in the Medicare advantage program. The Congres¬sional Budget Office predicts that PPACA “could lead many plans to limit the benefits they offer, raise their premiums, or withdraw from the program.” And, the Medicare program’s chief actuary has testified that more than a quarter of seniors could be forced out of the program.

If you get your insurance at work, you will almost certainly have to change plans. The administration itself now admits that more than two-thirds of companies could be forced to change the coverage they currently offer their workers. For small businesses, the total could reach 80 percent. The new plans will have to offer additional benefits and meet new federal requirements, likely making them more expensive.

Already, thousands of Montana workers with Flexible Spending Accounts have seen how much can be contributed to the accounts cut in half, and FSA funds can no longer be used to purchase over-the-counter medications. Workers with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) remain in limbo, awaiting rules from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to determine whether their plans will even survive.

Moreover, the law’s individual mandate continues to pose a threat to Montanan’s ability to keep their current coverage. That mandate not only requires everyone to buy insurance, it requires insurance to meet strict government requirements, offering the benefits that the government thinks you should have, not necessarily the benefits you want or need.

Second, “reform” will cost more than advertised. The Congressional Budget Office officially “scored” the health care bill as costing $950 billion. However, those numbers do not reveal the new law’s true cost. For example, CBO’s estimates do not include roughly $115 billion in implementation costs, such as the cost of hiring new IRS agents to enforce the individual mandate. The arcane budget rules of Medicare, Social Security, and the law’s new long-term care program, also allow the government to double count savings, while ignoring future costs outside the budget window. Finally, the law front ends taxes while deferring costs, providing a misleading 10-year budget outlook. True accounting suggests that the law will cost as much as $2.7 trillion over 10 years of full operation, and add $823 billion to the federal deficit.

Third, your premiums are going up. Any Montanan opening their health insurance bills recently can see that their premiums are not going down. In fact, CBO estimates that premiums could double over the next 6-10 years. Worse, some estimates suggest that the law’s new regulations have already added 7-9 percent to the cost of insurance.

And finally, your taxes are going up. The PPACA imposes more than $569 billion in new or increased federal taxes over the next 10 years. And, it’s not just federal taxes that are rising. PPACA will add more than 70,000 people to Montana’s Medicaid rolls, driving up the cost of the state’s program by more than $80 million by 2019. That mean’s either state taxes will go up, or other state services will be cut.

Now that we’ve had a chance to see what is in the bill, Montanan’s should simply say “no thank you.”

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For Immediate Release

636 Words

 

Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research and education center based in Bozeman.

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, a libertarian policy center in Washington, D.C.

Graham can be reached at:

67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

(406) 219-0508

cgraham@montanapolicy.org

Tanner can be reached at:

mtanner@cato.org

 

Bozeman Daily Chronicle MT Union Article w/ MPI Pork Report Featured

3/21/11: Bozeman Daily Chronicle story about Montana unions, with MPI’s Pork Report prominently featured.

Havre Daily News Article Discussing if Montana Legislature is “Laughingstock”.

3/18:11: Havre Daily News article discussing whether or not Montana’s legislature is a “laughingstock” for supporting a freedom agenda. MPI’s Carl Graham quoted as a “no” vote on that one.

Click here for full article.

Enough Already! – Spending Cuts?

Spending cuts? What spending cuts. Don’t blame reduced government spending for the slowdown.

News or Opinion, Consider the Source

By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute

This is not a Left Wing Media bashing column. Been there, done that, took the usual shots from the usual suspects. And frankly it’s getting boring. Most people believe what they believe and rarely leave their comfort zones anyway.

So it’s beside the point whether you think Fox News represents the troglodyte wing of the Republican Party or the New York Times is a communist rag. Either assumption places the messenger before the message and assumes that most people are too lazy or uninformed to consider the source. Unfortunately, though, they all too often are; and that’s the point. With the proliferation of news outlets, it’s increasingly difficult for people to consider the source while consuming the content.

Everybody has opinions. We’d be pretty boring without them. Every organization, including mine, that looks at public policy choices has agendas. We’d be pretty useless otherwise. And every media outlet that reports on policy choices is going to reflect to some degree the worldview of its publishers, editors and reporters. It’s simply naïve to think otherwise, and there’s a solid body of research to back it up if you disagree and need to be jerked out of the land of lollipops and cotton candy clouds.

The measures of responsible journalism outlets are the degree to which they allow their own biases to dictate the stories they cover, and to what degree they separate and balance opinions and facts within those stories. For example, some media outlets will decide not to cover stories skeptical of anthropogenic global warming, or to ignore such skepticism in climate change stories because they consider the science to be settled on that issue. Fair enough. But that’s a predisposition readers should consider and weigh appropriately when forming their own opinions.

Ditto for the spate of news stories recently on issues like proposed cuts to the state budget and states’ rights legislation. To read much of the news coming out of Helena – and specifically a couple of AP stories on Tea Party influence and proposed Health and Human Services (HHS) cuts – you’d think our legislators are wearing knickers and tri-cornered hats, that Montana is on the verge of secession, and that cutting spending back to even the levels of a couple years ago would result in mass calamity and utter chaos. I’ve seen more balance in a vertigo lab.

The Tea Party story used many quotes from the governor and others ridiculing limited government activists and their representatives, while providing just two very short quotes from legislators defending their actions. What do people who are actually in any of the many Montana Tea Party groups think? Not important, apparently; at least not if it’s “settled science” that they’re all nuts anyway.

The HHS story, meanwhile, provided extensive quotes from at least five proponents of greater government spending with just one short rebuttal from a GOP state representative. To be fair, in this case it was easy to see that many of those supporting more spending would benefit directly from it through their state jobs and/or contracts and grants. But where would we have learned that one group prominent in the story, the Montana Budget and Policy Center, was parachuted into Helena a year or so ago from the D.C. mother ship and immediately signed on a board of directors that looks like a who’s who of organizations at the government trough? We need that kind of information if we’re going to consider the source and make informed decisions.

So again, this isn’t a Left Wing media bashing story. That’s old news and you can find examples of bias from the Right as well, though I’d bet not as many. The point here is to be discerning consumers of news and opinion. When you read George Will or Paul Krugman (or me for that matter) you know to temper your response with what you know about the author. You should do that on the news pages too, rather than being led around by a lack of context.

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For Immediate Release

667 Words

 

Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research and education center (with an opinion) based in Bozeman.

He can be reached at:

67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

(406) 219-0508

cgraham@montanapolicy.org