I-185 a bad deal for Montanans

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Ballot Initiative 185 is a bad deal for Montana that voters should reject. The winners of this bad deal would be the hospital corporations and their wealthy executives. The losers would be the rest of us – veterans, the middle-class, tobacco consumers and most of all, people who want to quit smoking. It’s a costly idea with almost no upside.

Like most bad deals, you have to read the fine print to understand the Initiative doesn’t deliver on its promises. For example, read the fine print about big promises to veterans. The people behind I-185 promise money for veterans’ services, including veterans’ nursing homes and suicide prevention. What they don’t say is that the measure caps funding for veterans’ services support at just four percent of new revenue – a drop in the bucket. It is shameless how I-185 is actively waving the pro-veteran flag to market their campaign while appropriating the such a small amount to veterans.

They also make big promises about preventing kids from smoking and helping current smokers quit. Get out your reading glasses and check the fine print. I-185 dedicates a mere six percent of new revenue to smoking prevention and cessation programs – another drop in a very large bucket.

Despite the promises made, most of the money from I-185 would not go toward improving health care access for Montanans. According to the Initiative, only 44 percent of new revenues would be earmarked for health and Medicaid programs.

An analysis by the Governor’s Office of Budget and Program Planning projects that more than half of the new money from I-185 would go into the General Fund and existing programs.

As for the overblown promise to help people who want to quit smoking, I-185 would force them to pay an enormous new tax – 83 percent – on vaping products, which have been identified as a potential way to help smokers quit. I have had a handful of friends quit smoking by using vaping products. That’s not just a bad deal for people who struggle to quit smoking. It’s counterproductive.

Since the state Legislature passed Medicaid Expansion in 2015, here’s what we’ve learned: The program has cost taxpayers nearly double what experts projected. The original estimated cost for Medicaid Expansion was $43 million. The actual price was reported as $70 million. With health care costs expected to rise across the nation, that price tag will only get bigger.

The real winners of this bad deal are wealthy hospital corporations that would directly benefit from I-185. The president of one of Montana’s largest hospital chains made more than $7 million in 2016. And a dozen other hospital executives made more than a million dollars. Montana’s Medicaid Expansion was intended to help those in need – not millionaires.

Perhaps the worst part of I-185 is that it bypasses the Legislature’s plans to evaluate Medicaid Expansion and locks the program in place without much-needed cost controls or reforms. Instead of allowing for legislative oversight, I-185 creates a permanent spending appropriation for the Montana Department of Public Health, which legal experts warn violates the state’s constitution.

Montana’s Medicaid Expansion program has serious flaws that must be addressed before it is made permanent. Vote NO on 1-185.

— Daniel Zolnikov is a Republican member of Montana House of Representatives representing District 45.

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