Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to get through this thing called life and the 65th session of the Wyoming Legislature. We are in mourning today for we’ve lost a familiar friend and source of hope.
Medicaid expansion died, again, on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, mere hours into the legislative session. Though it was surrounded by some friends, nearly two-thirds of the House of Representatives voted against including it on consent agenda, meaning it wouldn’t even be debated.
While there are attempts to resuscitate it as of this writing, the outlook is dim. The odds of passage had been poor for some years, with many Wyoming politicians and residents stating their opposition, let alone the higher benchmark required for non-budget bills during the biennial session. While the passing wasn’t unexpected, it doesn’t lessen our disappointment or sense of loss.
The idea was born following the 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Since then, 36 states decided to take advantage of opportunities to expand and receive more federal funding, though Wyoming has voted down every proposal that has arisen since. Many people defend or criticize the overhaul largely based on the president who shepherded it into law, but it has lowered or stabilized health care costs in most of the places where it has been passed.
Interests of the deceased included providing more care for people in need. According to a Wyoming Department of Health report submitted in December, the state expected 19,000 Wyomingites would be covered by the program in the first two years. Of that number, at least half would be employed and 56% would have previously been uninsured – with the remainder having some form of insurance coverage today. These would be people who are already working, possibly multiple jobs, and investing in their communities but still having difficulties making ends meet. These are the families, friends and neighbors the bill and its supporters wanted to help.
Other hobbies included financial responsibility and directing taxes to local beneficiaries. Expansion would have required more spending, of course, but would have provided much more money in return. Under the 10-90% split, for an initial biennial appropriation of $18 million, Wyoming expected to receive $135 million in federal funds. The government is going to continue collecting and redistributing our tax dollars. Without joining, residents will continue to pay into the government pot but get nothing in return. Critics warn the money may not continue in the future, but when we were growing up, we never turned down allowance money just because we knew our parents would cut it off someday.
Lastly, the bill promoted honest debate about a serious topic that concerns many Americans. Technically, the bill wouldn’t have led to Medicaid as it would only authorize Governor Mark Gordon to work with the federal government to create a state plan, and then the State Legislature would then decide whether to approve the negotiated deal. It was only meant to advance the conversation. We recognize there’s limited time, but we question the priorities and loyalties of those who do not make time for honest and open debate. Are they really acting in the public’s best interests when they don’t make time for questions or input and conclude, from the start, that they don’t need any more information? We have doubts, and since they aren’t willing to talk about it, those concerns remain.
The bill is survived by a growing number of people with chronic, existing conditions, economic cracks that are going to swallow more people and a do-nothing Legislature. At a time when the economic outlook has dimmed, more closures are being planned and workers are increasingly concerned about reductions in hours or positions, lawmakers decided it was better to focus on votes that will get them re-elected than even pay lip service to economic relief.
The bill was preceded in death by similar legislative efforts, including many siblings dating back to 2013; and maybe hope … we’re undecided. We expect the issue is going to return, in different forms, every session as money is still available, but we’re not sure if it’s going to end when expansion is implemented or because the federal funding is eliminated. We only know it’s going to a year before this gets serious attention again, and for know families waiting for assistance, that’s going to feel like forever, and that’s a mighty long time.
At the bill’s request, no services will be conducted. In lieu of flowers, do something good for the people around you, dig deeper into the power of preventative care, and make sure everyone you know is registered to vote. If our elected representatives aren’t willing to help us help ourselves, we need to find partners who are.