Daines undecided on Senate health care bill vote

Montana has two of the 100 votes in the U.S. Senate, and of those two, only one of the state’s senators has made up his mind on the controversial GOP overhaul of the health care system.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, was originally pushing for a vote on the bill, also known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act, before the Fourth of July recess. McConnell postponed the vote on the reform because it lacked the support from 10 members of the Republican Party.

Daines’ office released a statement to the Chronicle on Friday, saying the senator was looking for three things in the Senate health care bill.

“We need to reduce premiums and make health care more affordable for Montana families, take care of those with pre-existing conditions so that they have access to care and save and protect Medicaid for who it was originally intended for: the most vulnerable in our society,” Daines said.

Montana’s other senator, Democrat Jon Tester, has been a vocal opponent of the bill. He told the Chronicle on Friday that Senate leadership has been modifying the bill to gain the support of the 10 Republicans that postponed a vote on the bill.

“It’s a horrible bill because it doesn’t fix any problems and exacerbates more problems,” Tester said.

Tester said he hopes the bill keeps parts of the Affordable Care Act that work. A sticking point in most health care discussions is federal funding provided to state Medicaid programs — Tester said it’s a serious problem if that funding gets taken away.

“If we don’t do this right, there will be people dying the streets,” Tester said.

Montana Democrats have also opposed the legislation in its current form. Nancy Keenan, executive director for the state Democratic Party, released a statement on Thursday commenting on Daines’ stance.

“Montanans will not forget that Dines chose to roll over for Washington insiders rather than fight to protect the health and well-being of his constituents,” Keenan said in the release.

The Chronicle reached out to the Montana Republican Party for comment but did not hear back.

The Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the proposed version of the health care bill, saying it could leave 22 million people without insurance coverage by 2026. It also said that in later years, other changes in the legislation, like lower spending on Medicaid, would also increase the number of people without health insurance.

A Montana Health Care Foundation report released last month said about 75,000 Montanans could lose coverage by 2021 if the Senate bill is enacted as is.

The Senate comes back from recess next week, and Waldman said Daines would know more about the bill then.