~~~by Maureen Bader~~~Wyoming Liberty Group~~

Draft bills spilling out of Wyoming's Legislative Services Office have already started to raise eyebrows. Two, so far, would limit healthcare choice in Wyoming.

The first, 14LSO-0141 Hospital licensure, would confiscate the operating license of a hospital if it discriminated against Medicaid and Medicare patients by serving only patients choosing to pay with their own money or with private insurance. The second, 14LSO-0142 Hospitals-charity care equalization, would tax a hospital for serving those same patients.

Why would Wyoming's Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee bring forward bills that stifle the ability to make health care decisions and at the same time, violate the Wyoming Constitution?

Special interest group lobbying, that's why.

These two draft bills appeared at the request of the Wyoming Medical Center (WMC). They are designed to prevent physician-owned hospital construction but will likely result in limited access to care and may even discourage physicians from practicing medicine in Wyoming.

The WMC is a not-for-profit (501c3) hospital in Casper. The hospital assets are owned by Natrona County. The WMC leases them and pays the county by providing indigent and prisoner care.

A group of physicians are proposing to construct a hospital in Casper. The WMC will face competition should that hospital be constructed. As Obamacare rules prevent physician-owned hospitals from accepting Medicare and Medicaid patients, any new physician-owned hospital would be unable to accept those patients. A bill to the confiscate the license of a hospital that refuses Medicaid and Medicare patients would effectively close the door to new physician-owned hospitals in Wyoming.

If the legislature throws up barriers to new hospital construction, WMC will benefit because WMC won't have to improve its own operations, and from the looks of it, it could use some improvement.

In 2011, WMC lost its "sole community provider" status, and with that, about $8 million annually in Medicare reimbursements. The federal money was supposed to help cover money-losing services.

The hospital took an even bigger hit when that designation was revoked retroactive to 2010. That meant WMC had to give back an additional $15.7 million to the federal government.

Why did it lose that funding?

Ironically, because a group of neurosurgeons left WMC and started their own hospital in Casper, the Mountain View Regional Hospital, in 2008.

And the breakup wasn't very clean. Those neurosurgeons had sued the Memorial Hospital board, the WMC and related organizations in federal court for alleged violations of their constitutional rights when they had credentials there until late 2005.

While this battle was going on, WMC decided to build a new tower. Now, that construction is delayed and over budget. Hospital officials said, back in August 2011, the would cost "no more than $35 million." In March 2013 a story in the Billings Gazette reported that the facility was supposed to open in the fall of 2013 and cost between $38 and 40 million. Demolition of the old building started in June 2012 and now the tower's completion is scheduled for Spring 2014 at a cost of $42.5 million.

Wyoming's representatives must not limit access to care by protecting a poorly run government hospital from competition. Instead of working to restrict patient choice under the guise of caring about indigent patients, the WMC should lowering spending, raise more money or if those things are impossible, step aside and let someone else better able to manage those assets take its place.

The 77 percent yes vote for the 2012 Constitutional Amendment to enshrine health care freedom in Wyoming's constitution shows that the people of Wyoming want to make their own healthcare decisions. To do that, they must have access to care. Instead of limiting people's freedom to choose, the legislature must kill these two bills.

If you are concerned about health care freedom of choice in Wyoming, you might want to let the committee members know.

Senators: Charles Scott, James Lee Anderson (SD 28), Bernadine Craft, Leslie Nutting, R. Ray Peterson

Representatives: Elaine Harvey, Eric Barlow, Kathy Coleman, Lee Filer, Matt Greene, Norine Kasperik, Lloyd Larsen, Mary Throne, Sue Wilson

Or go to the next Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee meeting, November 4&5 in Lander, Wyoming.

~~~Maureen Bader, Wyoming Liberty Group,~~~

For staff bios and photos, please go to http://wyliberty.org/about/staff/
This commentary is free and provided to media outlets and opinion leaders by the Wyoming Liberty Group for reprint with attribution. The Wyoming Liberty Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-partisan research organization. The Group's mission is to prepare citizens for informed, active and confident involvement in local and state government and to provide a venue for understanding public issues in light of constitutional principles and government accountability.