Local Legislators Decry Medicaid Expansion
Any proposal to expand Medicaid will be dead on arrival in the Legislature next month if eight House and Senate members from Natrona County have their way.
"It won't pass this body here, I know that," said Rep. Bunky Loucks, referring to his legislative colleagues at the Chamber of Commerce at a forum Wednesday.
"We've had it on our plate for three years in a row," Loucks said. "This is a budget session. I would like us to spend more time on budget... So I hope it doesn't come back up, because it's the same 90 people that were down there last year, so the votes aren't going to change that radically."
Loucks was one of five representatives and three senators who spoke at the forum at the Hilton Garden Inn. The others, all Republicans, were Reps. Kendell Kroeker, Tom Reeder, Tom Walters, Tom Lockhart; and Sens. Charles Scott, Bill Landen and James Anderson.
Not present were Sen. Drew Perkins and Reps. Tim Stubson and Steve Harshman, who are members of the Joint Appropriations Committee that is meeting in Cheyenne. Loucks said Rep. Gerald Gay was not able to attend because of health issues including paralysis below the waist.
Before the forum, the chamber collected questions for legislators from its members.
During the forum, they said they favored spending cuts to cover budget shortfalls; were leery of tapping "rainy day" funds to cover budget shortfalls; were divided about Game and Fish Department funding, but did not like a statewide lodging tax to support the department; and didn't have suggestions about fixing inadequacies, if any, in Natrona County's Internet and fiber optic infrastructure.
The Game and Fish Department has had run into its own budget issues. The governor-appointed Fish and Wildlife Task Force has suggested allowing the department to set its own hunting and fishing license fee amounts.
Some legislators didn't like that. Walters said agencies should operate without Legislature oversight. However, fees probably need to go up, he said.
Anderson said the department should be able to raise its own rates.
But Gov. Matt Mead's effort to expand Medicaid -- the federal health insurance program for the poor, and a component of the Affordable Care Act -- by putting it in his proposed budget, drew the most consistent ire. (The proposal would send Wyoming $268 million -- which includes money from Wyoming taxpayers -- during the next biennium that would offer health care coverage to up to 20,000 low-income, mostly working residents.)
Landen voiced his long-standing opposition, but added he might consider it if he could be shown that it would save money,
Reeder disliked its inclusion in the proposed budget, and Kroeker said the budget is for spending money and not setting policy.
Scott, long-time chairman of the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee, has been most vocal against the proposal and cited two reasons.
The federal government cannot keep its promise to pay for Medicaid expansion, he said.
"When the feds renege on that promise, not if but when, then we'll have a major hit that I think would really cut into spending on education, which I think is much more important for our future," Scott said. "And I think it would eventually cause a tax increase."
The Medicaid program doesn't do that much for the recipients of the program, either, he added.
"We will convert a lot of people from having private insurance, which they have been getting in part through the Obamacare exchanges -- we will convert them to having Medicaid," Scott said. "Private insurance pays full cost. Medicaid pays 60 percent of cost, and that's a real problem."