Monday, February 2, 2009

Republicans worry about costs of CHIP expansion

HELENA – Republican fears about costs and "socialized medicine" colored today's debate over a bill to extend health-care insurance to thousands of additional uninsured Montana children.

House Bill 157, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, would provide startup funding for the Healthy Montana Kids Program, a voter-approved initiative that expands eligibility for the Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid coverage to children of low- and moderate-income families.

The bill won initial approval by a 57-41 vote, but some Republicans argued that it was a poor fiscal decision.

“I have a really hard time with this,” said Rep. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings (pictured). “This has nothing to do with children. If you want to take one more step toward socialization, vote for this bill.”

House Speaker Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said McGillvray’s comments were proof that some House Republicans “might be out of touch with the people in Montana.” Voters approved I-155, the initiative that created Healthy Montana Kids Program, in November.

But Rep. Bob Lake, R-Hamilton, said he wasn’t sure Montanans would have voted for it if they knew it would cost $2.6 million to start up.

HB 157 would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to use money set aside in a special revenue fund to implement I-155. The initiative aims to cover 29,000 of Montana's estimated 30,000 to 34,000 uninsured children.

-by CNS correspondent Molly Priddy

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