- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is making another plea for state lawmakers to expand the Medicaid program, a move that would offer subsidized insurance coverage to about 20,000 low-income adults.

Mead told lawmakers in his state of the state address this month that Wyoming can’t afford to reject $268 million in federal funds over the next two years as state energy revenues are falling. He repeated his call on Thursday.

“Expansion would help cover health care costs for roughly 20,000 Wyoming citizens - our friends and neighbors - many who are working,” Mead said in a prepared statement.

Accepting the federal money would reduce pressure on Wyoming hospitals to shoulder the cost of providing uncompensated care to the uninsured, said Mead, a Republican now in his second term. “This is good for our economic future and it is the right thing to do as the state faces this current revenue shortfall,” he said Thursday.

The Wyoming Department of Health has estimated that accepting the federal funds would result in $33 million in program savings by reducing demand on its other services. Mead has said that savings is critical as lawmakers are pondering how to cut expenses.

Expanding Medicaid is a fundamental element of the federal Affordable Care Act. Congressional Republicans have tried and failed repeatedly to repeal the law.

Early in his first term, Mead, himself a Republican, steered Wyoming into a multi-state legal challenge against the law. That case led to a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld key elements of the law, which imposes penalties on some citizens who don’t purchase health insurance coverage.

Mead has come to support Medicaid expansion in recent years, saying the state needs to accept that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land and that Wyoming can’t afford to turn up its nose at available federal funds on principle.

The Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee has recommended against Medicaid expansion in its proposed budget for the two-year period that begins this July. Many lawmakers express distrust of federal funding promises. The Legislature has shot down Medicaid earlier expansion proposals repeatedly in past sessions.

The House and the Senate this week started hearings on the budget committee’s proposed budget bill. Medicaid supporters say they expect to float a Medicaid-expansion amendment Friday on the bill’s final reading in the Senate, but many senior lawmakers say they expect it will fail.

“I don’t think it will get through on a budget amendment,” Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, said Thursday. “I think we’re pretty solid in the Legislature that we’re worried about it tying us down in the future to increasing costs that aren’t coming from the federal government to fill the gap in our Medicaid. So I just don’t see it being passed.”

Mead, in his announcement on Thursday, noted that a broad coalition of businesses and health care organizations in the state support expansion. Among those are the Wyoming Association of Municipalities, Wyoming County Commissioners Association, the state Chamber of Commerce and the Wyoming Hospital Association.

“These groups recognize that a strong health care system is necessary to recruit new businesses and keep Wyoming moving forward,” he said.

Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said Thursday that his group is still hopeful the Legislature will approve expansion.

“It’s an uphill battle but we’re glad that the governor came out again in support,” he said.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, is a longtime supporter of Medicaid expansion.

“There’s a joke out there, and I think it’s true, that the only people in the state who don’t support Medicaid expansion are people in the Legislature right now,” Connolly said Thursday. “We have, I think across-the-board support from community organizations, municipalities, the hospital associations, all in favor of Medicaid expansion for what it can do not only for the 20,000 people who would be eligible for it, but for our communities. So it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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