CHEYENNE – State lawmakers on the Joint Appropriations Committee approved a bill Thursday morning authorizing the state to begin setting up a billing system through which Medicaid funds could be used for K-12 special education services.

Wyoming is currently the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t bill Medicaid for its special education services. Instead, the state has historically covered 100% of the costs for special education services like speech therapy.

While all 48 school districts in Wyoming could eventually participate in the billing system, the bill that passed by a 10-2 committee vote was designed to allow just one or a few districts to initially join, with the option for others to join when they see fit.

The main district discussed to run a pilot program for the billing system was Laramie County School District 1, based in Cheyenne. During the committee meeting Thursday morning, LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said a pilot program in his district would require at least one full-time employee to coordinate the program with the state Department of Education and the state Department of Health.

“I think it’s one of those situations that until we get into it, we’re not going to know exactly where we’re going to wind up on the other side,” Brown said.

While at least one employee would be necessary to set up the billing system, Brown said the district might need up to six additional therapists to get the program off the ground – at a cost of roughly $100,000 per employee.

While the district normally uses contracted health specialists, Brown said its employees would need to be trained to run the new billing system. Yet some legislators were wary of adding new employees before the program is set in stone.

“When you’re getting out of the gate ... you might have folks come in on a contract basis just to get the thing up and running,” committee co-Chairman Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, told Brown. “I don’t know if it makes sense to hire three or four people right out of the gate before you know if this thing’s going to swim.”

Brown noted the bill would still give the state and any districts involved with the billing system the ability to opt out of the billing setup if they choose to later on.

“Our effort was to try to put forward a good faith effort to say if there’s a real desire to do that, we’d take the opportunity to try to work all the bugs out to see whether it was worth moving forward or not,” Brown said.

Brown said the district spends roughly $20 million annually on special education services. The steps LCSD1 would need to complete to set up the billing system were seen as slightly cumbersome by some members of the committee.

“In all honesty, I think we’re going to have a lot of pay for shuffling for not a lot of money,” said Rep. Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale.

If the bill is passed by the full Legislature, projections show Wyoming would gain roughly $2 million annually in Medicaid funding during the first biennium of implementation, with that amount growing to $2.7 million by the third year – funds that Nicholas said could make a serious impact in the long run.

“$2 million doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s an annual number, and that’s supposed to increase over time as we move forward, so that number could be substantial,” Nicholas said. “We’re talking about tens of millions over the course of biennia, and every million is a million gained.”

Meanwhile, the bill would require $550,000 from the School Foundation Account to get a billing system set up in the state Department of Education.

Prior to a vote on the bill, Nicholas said the Joint Appropriations Committee will reconvene a few days before the start of the budget session Feb. 10 to finalize a new draft of the legislation.

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