Missoulian: Daines: GOP health-care bill preserves benefits for Libby asbestos victims

BUTTE — Sen. Steve Daines’ office said the bill released by Congressional Republicans Monday repealing much of the Affordable Care Act preserves special provisions written into Obamacare to protect victims of asbestos-related disease in Libby.

Daines, R-Montana, “was engaged in conversations” over the weekend about the Libby benefits with key Republicans in Congress, according to his staff. On Monday his office released a letter he wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan asking them to preserve the Libby patients’ status.

On Sunday, Lee Newspapers reported that in 2009 when the Affordable Care Act was being constructed, then-Sen. Max Baucus of Montana used his position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to write in special provisions for more than 2,000 people in Libby who are suffering from asbestos-related disease.

Those provisions include ongoing health screening for citizens in the town, which was contaminated by a vermiculite mine with asbestos-tainted ore that operated for more than half a century. In addition, Obamacare gave Medicare benefits to Libby asbestos victims, regardless of age and created a pilot program that offers wide-ranging patient care not covered by Medicare.

Daines and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, had been contacted by Libby residents worried that the provisions Baucus wrote into the Act would die if it was repealed. Both expressed support for the victims in Libby. Tester said a full repeal of Obamacare would end the Libby provisions, but said a partial repeal might not.

The legislation revealed by Republicans in Congress Monday is a partial repeal, preserving key pieces of Obamacare including allowing people to be covered on their parents’ plans until age 26 and preventing insurance companies from refusing to cover people with preexisting medical conditions.

It is far from law and has already come under fire from Republicans concerned that it does not go far enough and from more moderate Republicans who said it may not do enough to protect current Medicaid patients’ coverage.

Because the bill does not specifically mention the Libby provisions, Daines’ office said that means those provisions are preserved.

In the letter to the Republican leaders, Daines wrote, “I wanted to bring your attention to provisions impacting workers and residents of Libby, Montana that are unrelated to the heart of Obamacare but yet were included in that law. … I ask that you retain these provisions.”

A Tester spokesperson said Monday evening that his legislative team was still analyzing the bill.

“Following six years of asking to see a replacement plan, Jon is going to take his time in reviewing this important bill — a bill released moments ago crafted in backrooms with armed guards keeping members of both parties out of the process,” said Tester aide Luke Jackson.

“After traveling across Montana and meeting face-to-face with hundreds of Montanans this year about the future of their health care, Jon hopes any replacement plan includes the same access to health care for Libby residents and all Montanans that the Affordable Care Act has ensured from the beginning,” Jackson said.