- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming Democratic Party officials said Tuesday they are trying to muster support for the last surviving bill in the state’s ongoing legislative session that would expand the state’s Medicaid system.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Rothfuss, a D-Laramie, faces a hearing Wednesday morning before the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. Three of the five committee members voted against the introduction of Rothfuss‘ bill in the Senate last week.

“It’s obviously an uphill battle to convince them, at least one of them, to bring it out to the floor. The way it looks right now, it would fail on a two-to-three vote,” Rothfuss said Tuesday of his bill. “I’m certainly hopeful.”

Committee Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, was among those who voted against introduction of Rothfuss‘ bill. He declined to speculate Tuesday about the odds of the bill getting committee approval.

“It may be headed the direction I ultimately want to go, but I have some questions about the timing,” Scott said. He said he questions whether the federal Affordable Care Act will survive the next year.

“People are not at all sure if we do something whether it won’t just be totally irrelevant in 12 months,” Scott said.

State Democratic Party Chairman Pete Gosar told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that Rothfuss‘ bill would offer nearly 18,000 people in the state access to health care.

Jacqueline Bruner, a Rawlins resident, spoke on the party’s conference call. She said she’s working two part-time jobs and still can’t afford health insurance offered through the federal government’s Internet site under the Affordable Care Act.

Bruner said she’s missed work when she’s been unable to afford to pay for prescription drugs.

“People need to realize that people are important,” she said. “Politics are important. However, politics is stomping over human life, is the way I feel.”

The Wyoming Legislature last year rejected $50 million in federal funds for Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act. Gov. Matt Mead and others have said they don’t trust federal government promises to continue funding.

In his State of the State address last week, Mead said the federal government’s handling of the Affordable Care Act hasn’t inspired confidence. There have been problems with the Internet site intended to allow people to buy government-approved health insurance and other issues.

“We will see if the situation with the Affordable Care Act ever rights itself or is improved upon,” Mead said. “Neither has occurred yet. Therefore, at this time I do not support the expansion.”

Rothfuss‘ bill would call for traditional Medicaid expansion for the first year to give the state immediate access to federal funding.

During that first year of the program, Rothfuss‘ bill says the state would have time to negotiate a different approach to Medicaid with the federal government for subsequent years. He suggested the state create a new fund to bank savings it would realize from expanding the program.

Rothfuss‘ bill would require the Legislature to vote to renew the program in a few years. He has said that should address worries that the state wouldn’t be able to extricate itself from the program if the federal government reneges on its funding promises.

The Wyoming Health Department has projected that expanding Medicaid would save money for the state.

Wyoming’s Medicaid program likely will need an infusion of nearly $80 million in state funds in coming years if the state opts not to expand the program, according to Health Department figures. It projects that expanding the program would give the state nearly $50 million in savings by reducing demand on other programs.

The Wyoming Hospital Association supports Medicaid expansion. The association has said the expansion could reduce pressure on hospitals in the state that currently cover more than $200 million a year in uncompensated care for people who don’t have health insurance.

Dan Neal of the nonpartisan Equality State Policy Center, said his group is working with an ad hoc group called the Wyoming Coalition for Medicaid Solutions that’s lobbying for the expansion. He said it includes the hospital association and other medical groups.

“We’re just surprised that the Legislature is turning its back on all this money,” Neal said Tuesday. “This program over the next seven years would bring about $740 million in federal funds into the Wyoming economy, and because this would provide medical insurance coverage and medical care for poor people across the state, that money would go into every community in Wyoming.”



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