To Mary Throne, a state Democratic representative from Cheyenne, expanding Medicaid to low-income Wyomingites is a numbers game.
The numbers are 16 and 31. Sixteen votes constitute a majority necessary to pass a bill in the 30-member Wyoming Senate, and 31 votes are needed in the 60-member Wyoming House, Throne told the Natrona County Democratic Women’s Forum at the Petroleum Club in Casper on Saturday.
Throne is a member of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee, which on Friday voted in favor of sponsoring two bills that could expand Medicaid to some 17,600 low-income Wyomingites who do not have children. Gov. Matt Mead and others in the Republican-dominated state Legislature oppose expanding Medicaid, a component of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
But Throne believes that with savvy politicking, she and the 11 other Democrats in the Legislature can get 16 votes in the Senate and 31 in the House. Conservatives throughout the country oppose President Obama’s health care act as a flawed way to reform the health care system, but Throne noted there have been other “red” states, such as Arizona, that have expanded Medicaid.
Throne encouraged the 50 attendees of the county Democratic women’s forum, which included about 10 men, to reach out and make calls to legislators, specifically Sen. Drew Perkins and Reps. Steve Harshman and Tim Stubson. All three are Republicans from Casper and are members of the powerful Joint Appropriations Committee.
In addition to urging local Democrats to call the legislators, she encouraged them to reach out to people of influence who support Medicaid expansion, such as business people or county commissioners, who by state law get stuck with bills for charity care in Wyoming. State legislators’ minds may change if they get calls from regular Wyomingites and influential people, too, she said.
“The commissioners tend to be practical,” Throne said. “They’ve got to make sure the roads are safe and the snow is plowed. They tend not to get too caught up in ideology.”
Throne cited a study for the Wyoming Health Department that showed the state would save $47 million by expanding Medicaid by saving on prescription drugs and mental health treatment. She said that Wyoming hospitals would save hundreds of millions in unpaid medical bills. She hopes either one of the two Medicaid bills pass, or a footnote is written into the Wyoming budget that would expand the program.
Stubson did not return an email from the Star-Tribune on Saturday. Perkins did not return a phone call.
Harshman said he understands that there will be some savings, but he doesn’t expect payments from the federal government to always continue. He noted that the federal government had suspended coal royalties to the state and has decreased its match of Medicare to the state.
“So real leery of that, and once you kind of give a benefit, it’s pretty hard to pull back, morally, ethically,” he said. “We’re going to have a debate and we’ll see where it’s at.”