- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Some Wyoming lawmakers are pushing an alternative to a pending Medicaid expansion bill that critics say would risk rejection by federal regulators.

State Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Casper, and three other Republican lawmakers on Monday introduced a bill that would expand the federal Medicaid program in Wyoming by following a plan endorsed by the administration of Gov. Matt Mead.

An interim legislative committee in December endorsed an earlier bill that calls for requiring people covered by Medicaid expansion to pay into health savings accounts. However, Wyoming Health Department Director Tom Forslund told lawmakers at a briefing last week that it’s unclear whether the federal government would approve that proposal.

State Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, is chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee and a proponent of the savings account approach. He said Tuesday that his committee will consider the new bill Wednesday and likely act on it without taking public testimony.

Scott’s committee held a hearing last week to take public testimony on the Medicaid issue and most people spoke in favor of accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid. Expanding the program is a key element of the federal Affordable Care Act.

“The leadership is telling us and the governor’s telling us, both of them want a bill on the floor,” Scott said. “This is a major issue, not the sort of thing you kill in committee if you can avoid it.”

Scott said he intends to try to amend the new bill in committee to insert savings account language similar to what’s already in the bill endorsed by his committee.

After years of opposing Medicaid expansion, Mead recently said he wants Wyoming to accept federal money to extend health insurance coverage. The Legislature has rejected expansion proposals in recent years.

Wyoming turned its back on about $120 million in federal funds last year by choosing not to expand the program, according to the state health department. Mead said in his state of the state address this month that accepting the federal funds would help hospitals around the state that report they’re being forced to absorb over $100 million a year by treating the uninsured.

Von Flatern said Tuesday that he believes Wyoming needs to act to resolve the Medicaid expansion issue.

“It’s hard for businesses to know where they stand when every year we sit up here and go, ‘yes-no, yes-no,’” Von Flatern said. “It affects insurance rates. It affects your employees, when you’re looking at our state for a new state for the economy to move to, we spend a fortune on recruiting businesses, and we give them this unknown, and it’s time to get on board.”

Von Flatern said state government shouldn’t reject the federal funding when it would help the state economy and community hospitals. “We pay taxes, why aren’t we recouping some of that money back to Wyoming?” he said.

Von Flatern also said it doesn’t make sense for the Legislature to endorse the savings account approach when it could run into problems with federal regulators. If lawmakers adopt it, he said they run the risk of being back in Cheyenne next year considering the issue all over again.

State Sen. Fred Emerich, R-Cheyenne, signed on as a sponsor to the new bill. Other sponsors are Sen. Stephan Pappas, R-Cheyenne, and Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne.

“Society has a tendency to judge us by what we do with older people, the downtrodden, and pets and children,” Emerich said. “And I think it’s the right thing to do.”

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