Wyoming House defeats Medicaid expansion budget amendment

Government And Institutions Associated Press

The Wyoming House of Representatives on Thursday rejected a proposal to expand the federal Medicaid program.

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Sponsor Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, floated the proposed budget amendment to commit Wyoming to a two-year expansion of Medicaid.

Zwonitzer said going into Thursday's hearing that he didn't expect it to pass, but he wanted to give House members on both sides of the critical issue a chance to be heard.

The House voted 41-15 to reject the amendment. Four members were excused.

The state Senate earlier this month also voted against Medicaid expansion. Many members said they didn't trust federal promises to maintain scheduled payments of more than $100 million a year in federal funding to extend health insurance to 17,600 low-income adults.

Medicaid expansion is an element of the federal Affordable Care Act, which has been subject to repeated attacks from Republicans in Congress since it was enacted five years ago.

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Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican who just started this second term, joined in a multistate challenge to the Affordable Care Act four years ago that led to the U.S. Supreme Court upholding critical aspects of the law. Going into this legislative session, however, he urged lawmakers to pass an expansion bill, saying the federal funds would help reduce losses to hospitals in the state that provide care to the uninsured.

"What this amendment does, truly, is bring federal tax dollars back to Wyoming," Zwonitzer said.

"We have at least $100 million in uncompensated care a year going through our hospitals," he said. "That cost gets shifted onto the rest of us."

Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, spoke in favor of the amendment.

"There's not a single issue in front of us that has the potential to improve the lives of this many Wyoming citizens in so direct a way," she said.

Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne, said she agrees with many critics that the Affordable Care Act is a bad law. However, she said the state can't simply choose to close up shop when poor laws are in place.

Wilson said the Legislature was patronizing people who would be covered by Medicaid expansion by assuming that they couldn't appreciate that federal funding might evaporate in a few years, stripping them of coverage. She said she heard from one woman who said she wanted to get insurance coverage, even if only for a couple of years, so she could get her hip fixed and get back to work.

"Face it — you know that federal budget is not going to get fixed in the next two to four years," Wilson said. "We've got to work with what we've got."

Speaking in opposition to the expansion amendment, Rep. Harlan Edmonds, R-Cheyenne, said: "From the conservative point of view, I believe we're on the cusp of victory, and this is no time to go wobbly and embrace socialized medicine."