Graybill: Attorney general race could be difference in having a hospital

Havre Daily News

September 22, 2020

Democratic attorney general candidate Raph Graybill said the difference between him and his opponent, Republican Roosevelt County Attorney and former Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, could be the difference between having access to medical care in places like Havre and Chinook.

"I want to talk to you in particular about why this race, the attorney general's race, is so important for our health care," he said "... The attorney general in this election, this choice to make, is going to have a really big effect on our health care going forward in Montana.

He said his idea of the office of attorney general comes directly from the U.S. Constitution, with the phrase establish justice. That is the job of the attorney general, he said, to establish justice, and cutting health care is not part of justice.

Graybill, the chief legal counsel for Gov. Steve Bullock, said they oppose actions to overturn or repeal the Affordable Care Act that has massively expanded access to insurance in Montana including through Medicaid expansion passed by the Legislature.

Knudsen said when he entered the race that one of his prime reasons was to try to overturn the ACA, also known as Obamacare.

Graybill said he met with the Havre Democrats after meeting with health care officials in the area, including Northern Montana Health Care President and CEO Dave Henry, and talked about the lawsuit trying to overturn ACA.

"And what he told me was terrifying," Graybill said.

He said he was told that overturning Obamacare would mean losing a third of the beds in Northern Montana Hospital and could mean losing the clinic entirely in Chinook.

Henry told the Havre Daily News Monday that overturning ACA would mean a loss of beds.

"If Northern Montana Health Care were to lose the (patients) added by Medicaid expansion, we would have to look at cost cuts," he said. "This could mean closing a wing at the Northern Montana Care Center among other cost containment ideas."

Graybill said Friday that the attorney general position is different from most positions.

He said his job as the governor's counsel is working for the people of Montana, putting politics working with both sides of the aisle in the Legislature, passing Medicaid expansion, working on campaign finance laws, working on bills to make the government work better and be more efficient, serve the people and not special interests.

"I want to bring that same mentality to the attorney general's office," he said.

The attorney general is the advocate for the people, he said.

The rights and protections that you are entitled to under the law, that are words on paper, only become real and take on meaning if you've got an attorney general willing to enforce the law. ... These words in the Constitution would just be words were it not for an attorney general who would pick a fight and give those words meaning. That's what really this is all about."

He said that makes questions people should ask attorney general candidates different questions.

"You don't ask who is the most partisan extremist that I can hire," Graybill said. "You say who is the one that is competent, that will fight for me, that will give you independent advice, who will be loyal to the Constitution and to the people, not a partisan ideology."

He said that is directly connected to health care.

He said the Affordable Care Act, including the Medicaid expansion, provides health care directly to nearly 100,000 Montanans, supports rural hospitals, has added more than $1 billion to Montana's economy and protects about 400,000 Montanans with pre-existing conditions from having insurance coverage canceled.

He added that Montana has not lost a single rural hospital since Medicaid expansion happened.

A group of Republican attorneys general have a case before the U.S. Supreme Court trying to kill the Affordable Care Act, he said.

That would close up to a third of the beds at Northern Montana Hospital, and would close some essential services, such as dialysis, at the hospital, requiring people to drive 100 miles to Great Falls, he said.

"Think about that. Two hours on the road, having to travel 100 to get your essential services," Graybill said. "And that's not because of economics. That's because of extremist partisan ideology."

And, he said, his opponent is part of that extremist ideology.

"He is as extreme as they come," Graybill said. "... Over eight years he built a reputation of being impossible to work with because he was so partisan and so extreme."

"And now he wants to be your attorney general," Graybill added.

Graybill cited Knudsen's support for the ACA lawsuit, and his actions while a representative in the Legislature, such as passing Medicaid expansion over Knudsen's opposition and his helping block government bonding bills for state construction projects - which the Legislature failed to pass until Knudsen left that office.

"This is an incredibly important race, and it comes down to that value, establish justice," Graybill said. "To me that means fighting for health care, that means fighting for our loved ones, fighting for people who cant fight for themselves. That's what this job is all about."