The month of November has been a roller coaster for supporters of Medicaid expansion in Wyoming. It started with the Joint Health, Labor and Social Services Interim Committee meeting in Lander. Opportunities for expansion seemed more possible with the committee discussing a new Wyoming Department of Health report outlining five possible paths to expansion, all of them offering varying degrees of coverage to Wyoming’s working poor and savings to the state of Wyoming.
Supporters turned out in droves picketing outside (in single digit temperatures), packing the house for the discussion and speaking out during public comment. A broad coalition of interested organizations coordinated this outpouring of support, including the Wyoming Association of Churches, the Wind River Health Care Disparity Council, the Lander Ministerial Association, the Fremont County Democratic Party and others. This diverse group, feeling some momentum, came together because we feel that Medicaid expansion is the right thing to do for Wyoming, bringing together the compassionate nature of our people and the common sense that is held in high esteem by every Wyoming resident.
When helping those less fortunate and saving the state lots of money can be done at the same time it seems like it would be easy to make the right decision but, sadly last Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Governor Matt Mead slowed the momentum, announcing that he remains opposed to the optional expansion of Medicaid. In announcing his opposition he pointed to the clumsy rollout of the online health care exchanges. He must know that, while the Medicaid expansion and the exchanges are both part of the Affordable Care Act, they are two entirely different topics. The state of Oregon has signed up 70,000 people as part of the Medicaid expansion using paper and pencils, an approach the Governor must be familiar with since this is the way our students must do our state-wide testing after Wyoming’s failed roll-out of a computerized PAWS test.
In Wyoming, expanding Medicaid to include those making 138% of poverty level would allow nearly 18,000 of our residents to gain access to health care. Nearly 90% of these individuals work one or more jobs trying to make ends meet. They are poor, but just like you and me they get up in the morning and head to work to put food on the table. Unlike those of us fortunate enough to have employer-sponsored health insurance these folks don’t get insurance at their job and they don’t make enough to go and buy it. Food and shelter, naturally, are going to come first.
These people earning very modest incomes at jobs with no benefits deserve compassion, not scorn, but the words of Senator Charles Scott reveal the true feelings of the paternalistic Republicans. In the committee meeting he indicated that when considering Medicaid expansion they needed to be careful because the poor will chose to live below the poverty level to keep their Medicaid. Really? Sorry Charlie, people don’t choose poverty.
Later in an interview with K2 television Senator Scott was on television with this gem, “The traditional Medicaid program does considerable harm to the recipients, by encouraging excessive utilization of health care.” The poor are harmed by too much health care? Oh, my. Thank goodness the Republicans are here to save the poor from doctors!
In the instance of Medicaid expansion the Republican’s wrong-headed, paternalistic and strange ideology is keeping them from using the common sense that they claim as a bedrock value. According to the Wyoming Department of Health, Medicaid expansion will save the state 47.4 million dollars over the next six years. But the savings don’t stop there. When people are sick they seek medical care insured or not. The Wyoming Hospital Association calculates that 200 million dollars a year is spent on indigent care in the state. It is fiscally irresponsible to continue the fight against Medicaid expansion.
In spite of this recent setback from Governor Matt Mead, there is always hope. The Governor has said that he will continue to evaluate the law. Recently, Ohio’s Republican governor John Kasich did just that and used administrative rules to expand Medicaid in that state over the objections of the Republican controlled legislature, saying, “There seems to be a war on the poor.” He went further saying that, “So Ohio gets a good deal. We get $14 billion of Ohio money back to Ohio to deal with some of the most serious problems.”
Help the poor and get back the money that each of us pays in taxes to solve a problem here in Wyoming? Is it possible? Will Governor Mead and the Republican-dominated Legislature let compassion and commonsense carry the day in Wyoming, too?