At first glance, Florida and Montana don’t seem to have much in common. Florida is home to beautiful beaches and the subtropical Everglades; in Montana, we’re better known for our blue-ribbon trout streams and glacial mountain peaks.
But the truth is Floridians and Montanans have more in common than you might think. Both are fed up with partisan gridlock in D.C., and look to their state leaders to find common ground, pursue compromise and move forward solutions that improve the health of their economy, their communities and their residents. Both recognize a good deal when they see one and demand fiscal responsibility from their leaders. Both Florida and Montana have Republican majorities in their state House and Senate. And although I proudly serve as a Democratic governor, I do so in a state where President Obama only got 42 percent of the vote in 2012.
Right now, Florida has the opportunity, like Montana recently did, to find a compromise that will bring your federal tax dollars back home to expand health coverage to more than 800,000 uninsured residents, at little to no cost to the state, while throwing a lifeline to hospitals and reducing the cost-shifting that threatens small businesses while driving up rates on those fortunate enough to have health insurance.
In April, I signed the Montana HELP Act into law, extending access to affordable healthcare coverage to more than 70,000 Montanans, and making Montana the 29th state, plus the District of Columbia, to expand Medicaid. Passing this legislation was not easy — it took years of difficult bipartisan compromise to come up with a Montana-based solution. Ultimately enough Republicans and Democrats recognized that finding a solution was literally a matter of life or death for too many hardworking residents.
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As with all compromises, no one got everything they wanted. But by working together, we built a plan that will benefit the people of Montana and our economy, and I’m confident that the federal government will recognize the same truth we did — that doing nothing is not an acceptable option for the residents, hospitals, businesses or communities of our state.
I’ve been discouraged as I’ve watched other states, including Florida, allow this discussion to get mired in partisan politics. This is far too important to become the victim of rigid ideology that all too often dominates Washington, D.C. Residents expect their state leaders to deliver solutions for the people of their state.
A Montana physician made the best case for bringing these dollars home to expand health coverage when he said, “Illness does not know political party.” It’s with this in mind that I teamed up with a conservative Republican legislator to put together a plan that would address the concerns of all involved and ensure we were taking advantage of the opportunity to extend coverage to those who need it most.
Political grandstanding might make for great soundbites for the evening news, but it will do nothing to help the people that go to work every day knowing that they’re one health emergency away from bankruptcy. It will do nothing to help the hospitals struggling to keep their doors open under the crushing cost of uncompensated care. And unlike Medicaid expansion, partisan rhetoric doesn’t create jobs and support the economy.
I hope that Florida will take a page out of Montana’s book and find a solution to this challenge that will fit its unique needs and benefit the state’s residents.
Ultimately, the decision to expand Medicaid is one of common sense and necessity; the facts make it clear that it is good for state economies, good for hospitals and good for the people who need healthcare coverage. I fully understand how hard it is and how long it can take to reach a compromise, but the alternative should be unacceptable to elected officials everywhere.
Steve Bullock is the governor of Montana.