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Wyoming House committee advances Medicaid Expansion bill

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Public Domain
Campbell County Memorial Hospital in Gillette.

A legislative committee advanced a bill to expand Medicaid in Wyoming, paving the way for a familiar fight on the House floor.

Medicaid expansion is an option that was eventually thrown to the states after the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Expansion brings in federal dollars and closes what’s known as "the Medicaid gap" — a liminal space some Wyomingites find themselves in between making too much for traditional Medicaid but making too little to afford their own.

Wyoming is one of just 11 states — and the only state in the Mountain West — that has not expanded Medicaid. The state's Department of Health estimates at least 19,000 residents could become insured if the state expands Medicaid.

Committee Chair Rep. Steve Harshman (R-Casper), who's been voting against expansion for years, said he's finally changed his mind.

"I've voted against this probably 10 times. As the appropriations chair, I cast the deciding vote in committee that killed it — in a year it probably would have passed," he said. "I've just learned so much and as I've learned more — it's the right thing to do for the people. And I think the people of Wyoming who have been opposed to it have come around. I think you've even seen that nationally."

The bill expands who qualifies for Medicaid. The insurance for those new enrollees would be covered 90 percent by the federal government. But Rep. John Bear (R-Gillette) said he doesn't trust the feds to keep that agreement long-term.

"And frankly, I do not trust that the federal government, which changes dramatically from one administration to another, will not mandate to the state how they can operate this program," he said.

Rep. Bear added an amendment to the bill saying that no state or federal funds could be used for gender-affirming care. Harshman also added an amendment, making clear that no Medicaid funds could be used for abortions.

The bill advanced out of committee with a 6 to 3 vote. It now heads to the House floor, where it must survive three readings before it can be handed over to the Senate.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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