- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead told state lawmakers Friday that, having rejected Medicaid expansion, the burden’s on them to come up with a solution for addressing health care problems in the state.

Mead addressed the Senate and the House in closing remarks at the end of the general legislative session on Friday.

Both houses of the Legislature voted to reject more than $100 million a year in federal funding to expand the Medicaid program that would extend health care coverage to 17,600 low-income adults. Mead has been an opponent of Medicaid expansion, an element of the federal Affordable Care Act, but came into this session asking lawmakers to approve it.

“Everybody recognizes there’s a need to address health care in the state,” Mead said on the House floor. “The challenge for you, the challenge for me, is how do we do that? How do we recognize that we have the highest health care costs of any state? How do we ignore $200 million in uncompensated care for our hospitals? How do we ignore that some of our small hospitals are operating on 19 or 20 days of cash?”

The Wyoming Hospital Association as well as business groups had supported Medicaid expansion, saying it would help hospitals reduce expenses on uncompensated care and reduce health care costs.

In the closing hours of the session on Friday, both the Senate and the House voted to approve a bill that calls for $2.5 million to help hospitals cover the cost of uncompensated care.

Some lawmakers spoke against the hospital funding, saying the state wouldn’t have oversight over the money and that it may serve to reward hospitals that have been poorly managed. Supporters of the measure said some hospitals in the state have only a few weeks of operating cash on hand and need help to keep their doors open.

Speaking in favor of the hospital funding bill in the House, Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, said hospitals incur heavy costs for uncompensated care. She said the bill was only a one-year program and would give them something to make up for that.

Harvey, chairman of the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, said the Legislature will continue to look at the issue. “We’re going to study it until hospitals are sick of us and don’t want us to come back,” she said.

Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and urged fellow senators on Friday to oppose the hospital funding.

“I just seriously question whether or not this is the camel’s nose under the tent,” Ross said. He said the bill would create the expectation that the state will continue to subsidize hospitals in the future.

Mead told legislators he appreciated their work on the hospital issue. But he warned the state is not in a position to continue to fund private hospitals. “From my perspective, we cannot afford as a state to every year say we’re going to put out X amount of money for our hospitals, and I think you all recognize that,” he said.

Mead said he gets calls from employers who are tired of seeing their federal taxes go every month to subsidize health care for workers in other states. “How do we ignore the fact that we have 17,000 people, the majority of whom are working, who are falling into the gap?” he said.

Many lawmakers who opposed Medicaid expansion said they didn’t trust federal promises to continue to pay the bulk of expansion costs in years to come.

“If there’s a better path forward for us, I want to hear what that is,” Mead said. “As we arrive next session, we need answers. If it’s not the (Affordable Care Act), where are we going to go?”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide