Wittich, Burnett and Webb

Three Republican lawmakers filed a state lawsuit this week in an effort to force the Bullock administration to turn over household income data for Montana’s new Medicaid recipients.

The lawsuit was filed in the Gallatin County District Court in Bozeman, hometown of state Reps. Tom Burnett and Art Wittich, two of three Republicans challenging the administration’s delay in providing the documents first requested in February.

The Republicans, represented by attorney and state Rep. Matthew Monforton, R-Bozeman, are relying on Montana’s public records law. They assert the law enables them to receive anonymous household income data on Medicaid recipients from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Last year, Montana’s Legislature approved expanding Medicaid eligibility. The program is intended to provide free or low-cost health benefits to the poor. Program costs are shared by states and the federal government. All three of the lawmakers filing the lawsuit voted against the expansion.

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the number of medically uninsured people in Montana dropped from 15 percent to 7.4 percent over the past year, with 44,114 people receiving coverage because of the expanded Medicaid eligibility.

Burnett, Wittich and the third plaintiff, state Sen. Roger Webb of Billings, believe that the number of Medicaid enrollees “far exceeds the original projection of 25,000 and therefore Montana’s share of the costs for the program is likely to be far higher than anticipated.”

“While the DPHHS is charging full speed ahead developing further legislation for the 2017 session, it is refusing to disclose to the public (and legislators) the growing costs of the program as modified in the 2015 Obamacare-Medicaid expansion,” the complaint reads.

Jon Ebelt, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services in Helena, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. In an email on May 25, Ebelt told Burnett that the department was making progress on his request.

“We are making significant progress, but given the complexity of the request, we are realistically several weeks away from completing it,” Ebelt said.

Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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