Medicaid expansion

Labor panel backs two Medicaid bills

Decision ensures full legislative debate in 2014

Rev. Dee Lundberg of Casper addresses a rally of people who support expanding Medicaid in Wyoming.

Rev. Dee Lundberg of Casper addresses a rally of people who support expanding Medicaid in Wyoming.

In its 2014 Budget session, the Wyoming Legislature again will debate expanding Medicaid to deliver health insurance to more than 17,000 Wyoming residents. The chances for that debate did not look strong until Thursday and Friday of this week, when people advocating for the expansion convinced the members of the Joint Interim Labor, Health and Social Services Committee to advance two bills to the full Legislature. A rally organized Thursday by the Wyoming Association of Churches Thursday brought together about 200 people who heard speeches by Rev. Dee Lundberg of Casper and Rev. Rodger McDaniel of Cheyenne, focusing on the moral reasons for making healthcare available to more people. During the committee hearing Thursday morning, a number of witnesses testified to the need to make Medicaid insurance available to low-income adults with no children. Under the current system, Medicaid is available only to the following categories: aged/blind/disabled; pregnant women; children; and caretaker adults. All categories must be low-income. The witnesses’ testimony about the critical need for access to health insurance echoed comments made by members of the Wind River tribes who addressed the Select Committee on Tribal Relations on Jan. 7 in Fort Washakie. Tribal officials noted that Indian Health Services is under-funded. “We are funded at 45 percent of our actual need,” Richard Brannan, the director of IHS on the reservation. Lack of access to healthcare coupled with chronic disease, behavioral issues, and violence mean reservation residents have an expected life span of just 53 years – lower for men. At Friday’s hearing, Chairwoman Elaine Harvey voted for one of the bills passed by the committee, a version of Medicaid expansion based on legislation passed by Arkansas earlier this year. She said the committee has a responsibility to ensure a full legislative discussion of the issue. “I would hate to think that 12 people would decide for the whole state to not do any kind of Medicaid expansion at all,” said Harvey, R-HD26, Lovell. Advocates for the expansion now must assess the bills approved by the committee and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.  The Budget session opens Feb. 10. Here are links to the bills: Medicaid expansions – limited benefits – 14LSO0139.C1 (Medicaid Fit) Medicaid expansion – insurance pool. – 14LSO0140.C1 (Arkansas model with modifications) The Casper Star-Tribune reported the votes on both bills: Voting in favor of “Medicaid Fit” were Sen. James L. Anderson, R-SD28, Casper; Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette; Sen. Bernadine Craft, D-SD12, Rock Springs; Rep. Lee Filer, D-HD12, Cheyenne; Rep. Matt Greene, R-HD45, Laramie; Rep. Mary Throne, D-HD11, Cheyenne, and Rep. Sue Wilson, R-HD7, Cheyenne. Voting no were Rep. Norine Kasperik, R-HD32, Gillette; Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-HD54, Lander; Sen. Ray Peterson, R-SD19, Cowley; Sen. Charles Scott, R-SD30, Casper; and Rep. Harvey. The committee voted 8 to 4 in favor of a bill, called “Insurance Pool,” that would allow the use of Medicaid funds to pay premiums for approved health care coverage offered by the federal insurance exchange. The vote for “Insurance Pool” was the same as the vote for “Medicaid Fit,” except that Rep. Harvey voted yes. Photo credit: Chesie Lee/Wyoming Association of Churches  

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