By Ron VandenBoom
John Morrison, Democratic candidate for state auditor, said he wants to expand Montana's Comprehensive Health Association (MCHA) to include drug benefits and mental health coverage.
Morrison, a man following in the footsteps of a three-term Nebraska governor and a father who sat on the Montana Supreme Court, said during a campaign stop in Havre that if elected he would like to see the MCHA develop a sliding premium that would better address the needs of less affluent Montanans.
The state auditor oversees the MCHA program.
"We propose a sliding premium scale to make it less expensive and more affordable for people in those (lower) income brackets," Morrison said.
The Montana Comprehensive Health Association is an insurance program designed to provide insurance to people who need, but can no longer qualify for insurance, due to serious or long-term illnesses that places them at high risk.
The association serves as the insurance of last resort, but it comes at a very high premium, Morrison said, suggesting that lower premiums and expanded benefits be paid for with what he calls "marginal increases" on the fees charged to the insurance companies that are members and also with some portion of the tobacco settlement revenue.
Tobacco settlement dollars are expected to exceed $900 million over the next 30 years.
Morrison said that as a lawyer who worked as private counsel on the tobacco settlement case, he believes health care was the intended purpose of the money all along.
He's careful not to suggest that MCHA is the only vehicle for using the funds, but it is, he said, the only way the state audior's office can address, in a meaningful way, the issue of public health.
Morrison is running in a race composed of three Democrats and two Republicans, but of all the candidates, Morrison said he is the only lawyer with a background in insurance consumer law.
"Representing consumers to make sure they get fairly treated by insurance companies," he said.
The principle job of the State Auditor is to regulate the insurance industry and make sure it follows the laws in its dealings with people, he said, adding that the office also investigates and prosecutes claims of fraud by individual agents and brokers.
"Essentially a legal function," he said.
Morrison said, as the only lawyer in the race, he believes he brings something unique to the race. He points to a background in insurance and consumer law to prove the point. He also considers being able to serve as a prosecutor to be an asset he would bring to the office.
As a member of Montana's Land Board, Morrison's position is one of caution.
"It's my reading of the Constitution and the statutes that leads me to believe the first and foremost duty of the Land Board is to insure that the land that is held in trust is not damaged," Morrison said. "So we can't approve uses that would create long-term damage to the land."
Morrison sees more uses for Montana's land than just a means to produce revenue for schools. Two suggestions he supports are public access and recreational uses.
Montana lands currently generates more than $40 million annually for schools and Morrison doesn't want to see that jeopardized, but he also claims a close eye should be kept on the way the Montana Legislature deals with additional revenue that comes from State Land to insure increases in revenue and not matched by decreases to education from the General Fund.