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Legislators Take Medicaid Expansion Testimony

Wyoming Capitol Building
Amy Richards, Townsquare Media

Most of those testifying before the Wyoming Senate Labor, Health and Social Services committee Monday morning favored some sort of Medicaid expansion for Wyoming.

The  Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee (which also includes house members) is sponsoring a bill modeled on Medicaid expansion in Indiana that would include personal health and wellness accounts.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senator John Hastert (SD-13) is sponsoring the “SHARE” expansion plan, originally put forward by the Wyoming Department of Health. Supporters of that plan say it is highly likely to be approved by the federal government, while they maintain the alternative plan may not get federal approval.

Of the roughly 25 people who gave public testimony Monday, all but a couple favored one or both of the expansion plans.

Several people representing the Wind River Indian Reservation and Native American populations said the situation on the reservation in terms of health care is desperate, with a waiting time of at least a half an hour or more an emergency calls, high suicide rates and a life expectancy of only 51 years. They said at least 4,600 reservation residents would benefit from expansion.

Cheyenne Regional Medical Center CEO Margo Karsten told legislators uncompensated health care is a major burden to Wyoming hospitals, especially smaller facilities in rural areas. Karsten said CRMC alone is facing costs of roughly $20 million annually. She said the situation is even worse for smaller hospitals with fewer resources.

Representatives of a variety of business, medical and church groups also spoke in favor of expansion;.

But not all of the testimony favored expansion.

Representaitve Marti Halvorsen (R-HD 22) testified that she is concerned that if Medicaid expansion is approved up to a quarter of the states population may end up on Medicaid, as opposed to the 17,600 who are believed to be currently eligible. Halvorsen also said lawmakers need to remember that Medicaid was originally designed to care for the poor, elderly and others who have no other access to healthcare.

Representative Allen Jaggi (R-HD 19) said the situation involving the federal government and health care is uncertain and urged lawmakers to think carefully and act with caution before committing to legislation that could end up costing Wyoming a lot of money due to unexpected developments.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead last week during his ”State of the State” address lawmakers to expand Medicaid in the state. The expansion is one of the key provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, but Wyoming lawmakers have so far resisted it.

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