Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- The House Business and Labor Committee is considering a bill that would require small businesses to allow employees to stay on their healthcare insurance up to 18 months after leaving their job if they cannot find other coverage.

The bill applies to businesses with fewer than 19 employees. Rep. Mark Thane, D-Missoula, is the sponsor of House Bill 389

The bill wouldn’t require businesses to offer healthcare if they don’t already, and it would work under The Federal Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act – better known COBRA – which requires larger businesses to extend coverage. This bill would make a mini-COBRA law in Montana. Similar legislation has passed in 44 states. 

There were three proponents at a hearing Thursday, who said that the bill would provide more Montanans with stable healthcare. Emily Coyle represented the Montana Association of Healthcare Purchasers.

“This extended COBRA coverage comes at no expense to the state or to the employer. However, unfortunately, COBRA currently only applies to employers with 20 or more employees, not to small businesses or their employees in Montana,” Coyle said.  

There were four opponents of the bill, including Dave Galt who represented the Montana Chamber of Commerce.  

“We believe that this is a burden to small business -- particularly because they don't have the necessary, perhaps, structure in place with HR people and people to manage those kinds of programs. Ultimately, we think that this ought to be left to the marketplace,” Galt said.  

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.