A House committee on Tuesday endorsed a heavily amended bill to continue Montana's Medicaid expansion program with a work requirement.

Republican Rep. Ed Buttrey said the amendments he proposed addressed many concerns expressed by those who testified against his bill during a daylong hearing on March 16, along with concerns by both parties and the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, while still meeting his goal of having work requirements and an improved asset test.

Legislative lawyers questioned the constitutionality of a provision requiring Hutterite colonies to pay the state's share of Medicaid expansion cost for their members. Buttrey did not change that provision, saying the colonies support it.

The House Human Services Committee first took up a bill by Democratic Rep. Mary Caferro to keep the health care program that covers 96,000 low-income Montana residents largely intact. After it was amended to add a work requirement and a sunset date, Democrats moved to table it.

Buttrey proposed amendments to his bill to address concerns that his program was setting up a costly bureaucracy with requirements to report work or community engagement hours that would cause people to lose their coverage. The amended bill would require an audit if more than 5 percent of participants are suspended from the program for not meeting reporting requirements. If more than 10 percent of those suspended are found to have been wrongly suspended, further suspensions would end until the next legislative session.

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