- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 3, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The Wyoming House voted Tuesday to cut most of the funding from a bill that Senate lawmakers had passed to help hospitals in the state cover the cost of treating uninsured patients.

The House on Tuesday voted to cut the funding in the bill from $5 million to $1 million.

Several House members said Tuesday they’re not convinced the state has done enough research into how hospitals would use state money if lawmakers approved it, and some said they feared the proposed funding would be so little as not to make a real difference to hospitals.

The Senate passed the hospital funding bill after rejecting a bill that would have accepted over $100 million a year in federal funds to expand the Medicaid program to offer health insurance to 17,600 adults.

The Wyoming Hospital Association had supported Medicaid expansion, saying insuring more people would reduce hospital charity cases. The association has said hospitals in the state absorb hundreds of millions a year in charity care costs, increasing the costs of medical care for those who have insurance coverage.

Both the Wyoming Senate and the House rejected Medicaid expansion last month. Critics said they didn’t trust federal promises to continue to pay at least 90 percent of expansion costs in years to come.

Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, urged House members Tuesday to support the hospital funding cut, saying that fully funding the bill wouldn’t change the number of people who receive charity care. Harshman is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, responded that lawmakers weren’t in a place to question how hospitals would use the money. “If it does mean a raise for the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. nurse, who are we to care about that?” she said.

Rep. Michael Greear, R-Worland, sponsored the amendment to reduce the funding. He said the hospital funding bill wouldn’t really address the issue of paying for charity care in the state.

“We use the analogy that we have a gaping wound, and we’re putting a Band-Aid on it,” Greear said.

Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, had pushed for retaining the $5 million the Senate recommended for the bill plus adding an additional $1 million from another bill that died.

Harvey, chairman of the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, said after the House vote that her committee intends to ask legislative leaders to authorize an interim study on the issue of hospital funding.

Harvey said she’s not aware of any House members who intend to try to amend the bill on its scheduled final reading on Wednesday. Instead, she predicted that a House/Senate conference committee on the bill will likely recommend increasing the funding back up to about $3.5 million.

There are 26 hospitals in the state, and most of the big ones have over 200 days of operating cash on hand, Harvey said. But she said some smaller ones are operating on much tighter margins, with some having only a few weeks of cash.

“This is just a one-year program, and I think that what we’re doing is keeping the doors open for a year,” Harvey said. Lawmakers will study uncompensated care, meaning bills that hospitals can’t collect, as well as critical access care for people under 100 percent of the federal poverty level, she said.

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