Abortion review panel failed on a 10-9 vote

Amendment that increases Medicaid verification approved

By: - April 23, 2021 10:51 am

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Republican Sens. Duane Ankney of Colstrip, Dan Salomon of Ronan, and Jeff Welborn of Dillon crossed party lines to kill on a 10-9 vote an amendment that would have created a panel to review whether abortions paid for by Medicaid were medically necessary.

Welborn said the procedure is still legal whether people agree with it or not, and the change would set up a court to decide the legitimacy of a rape. He said legislators of both parties do send each other proposals that seem like a bridge too far.

“But this goes beyond that,” Welborn said. “This is not getting government out of our lives, it’s pushing our own brand of government on people’s lives.”

Sen. Carl Glimm, R-Kila, presented the amendment to review abortions paid for by Medicaid, those that are medically necessary, save the mother’s life, or take place after rape or incest. He said only 10 percent of the abortions paid for by Medicaid have been denied in the last decade or so, and he believes they need more review, especially the ones deemed “medically necessary.”

“That’s what we want another set of eyes to look at is just to check to make sure that they are actually medically necessary, because I think that’s just not the case,” Glimm said.

The committee voted to approve a couple of other amendments to the bill before giving it a green light and sending it to the Senate floor. Generally, House Bill 686 implements provisions of House Bill 2 that deal with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.

One amendment has DPHHS check for Medicaid eligibility more frequently; in an email, DPHHS said it has sought guidance from the federal government on how to implement the change after “the public health emergency has concluded,” presumably the pandemic.

Sen. Glimm argued the more frequent check for eligibility would mean another $7 million for the state of Montana in a federal match. However, Sen. Janet Ellis, D-Helena, said the change would prohibit “continuous eligibility,” which allows people to remain enrolled rather than have to confirm their status, and it costs less because it’s less unnecessary paperwork.

Another amendment increases the maximum co-pay for families in a higher income bracket from $215 to $500 for the benefit year.

Both of those amendments — to conduct more frequent verification for Medicaid and to raise maximum copay — passed on party lines.

The failed amendment to create an abortion review panel had been proposed by Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, in the House. The panel would have decided whether to pay claims after the fact and after a review of medical records.

Thursday in Senate Finance and Claims, the following Republican senators joined Glimm to vote in favor of the abortion review panel: Mike Cuffe of Eureka; Kenneth Bogner of Miles City; David Howard of Park City; Doug Kary of Billings; Bob Keenan of Bigfork; Mike Lang of Malta; Cary Smith of Billings; and Ryan Osmundson of Buffalo.

All the Democrats on the committee opposed the amendment: Ellis of Helena; Ellie Boldman of Missoula; Pat Flowers of Belgrade; Tom Jacobson of Great Falls; Shane Morigeau of Missoula; Mary McNally of Billings; and Ryan Lynch of Butte.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.