Tobacco companies are dumping millions of dollars into Montana to deceive voters by filling our mailboxes and cluttering our TV screens. It’s time to clear the smoke around Ballot Initiative I-185.
Let’s look at the facts: In addition to fully funding Medicaid coverage for 100,000 Montanans and ensuring healthcare access for our veterans, seniors and people with disabilities, I-185 will also fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs and services, support funding for veteran suicide prevention, and prevent our rural hospitals from closing their doors.
We know that raising the tobacco tax will help reduce smoking – the number 1 cause of preventable death in our state. Smoking alone kills more people each year than alcohol, car crashes, drugs, homicides and suicides combined. Tobacco hurts Montana financially, too. Tobacco costs Montanans more than $440 million in health care costs each year and the average Montana household pays nearly $800 extra in taxes every year to help cover those costs. It’s time we held tobacco companies accountable for these costs. With I-185, if you don’t use tobacco, you don’t pay.
Our rural communities stand to benefit with I-185. Hospitals in states that did not expand Medicaid have been six times more likely to close their doors. In Montana, we’ve thrown a lifeline to our rural hospitals and kept them open. We also know that Medicaid expansion in Montana has dramatically lowered Montana’s uninsured rate down to 7% from a staggering 20% and reduced uncompensated care costs by close to 50%.
Our economy stands to benefit with I-185. Even though eight out of ten Medicaid expansion recipients are already working, we set up a process to voluntarily match folks with job opportunities and an assessment of their barriers to better employment. Multiple independent reports have found Montana is the only state in the country to actually boost labor market participation. And Medicaid expansion has proven to be fiscally responsible for Montana; infusing $500 million new dollars into our state, creating 5,000 new jobs and nearly $300 million in new personal income.
Our veterans stand to benefit with I-185. If it doesn’t pass, 9,500 Montana veterans and their families could lose out on their healthcare. And the ballot initiative actually creates new revenue to provide much-needed suicide prevention support for our veterans and to help fund the veterans’ nursing home they’ve earned and deserve.
Despite these obvious benefits tobacco companies have already spent over $12 million dollars to defeat I-185.
Three years ago when we brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass Montana’s Medicaid expansion, it was one of the most memorable moments I’ve had serving the people of Montana. Members of both parties put the people of Montana ahead of politics and I signed the bill knowing thousands of people would now receive the healthcare they so desperately need. In a time of such polarization Montanans could take pride in the fact that we could still work together to meaningfully impact people’s lives.
Now more than ever, we must continue to come together as Montanans. We must not let tobacco companies divide us. We need to stand up to their out-of-state corporate dollars and tell them they are not welcome.
Unlike the tobacco companies, Montanans don’t have an unlimited bank account to blanket the state with ads. We have to educate our fellow Montanans about how important I-185 is to our livelihood, to our economy, to our rural communities, and to Montana families and our veterans across the state.
It’s my hope you’ll join me in our efforts. Ensuring this ballot measure passes in November is not only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.