Bringing the Medicaid expansion bill to the Senate floor for a full debate will be difficult after it received negative recommendations from two legislative committees this week, the Senate’s vice president said Friday.
Normally, bills with a negative recommendation are treated as a low priority, said Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton. But the bill’s chances of being heard are better than if one of the committees had voted to kill it altogether, he added.
Bebout’s response differed from that of Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, who said earlier this week that he intended to have an open debate on the matter.
The legislation would expand Medicaid in accordance with the Affordable Care Act. It would extend government health coverage to roughly 28,000 poor and medically needy people in Wyoming, or about a third of the state’s uninsured population.
Last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave states the ability to opt out of parts of the expansion. The legislation, Senate File 122, would commit Wyoming to both the optional and mandatory parts of the controversial health reform provision.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Friday to give the bill a negative recommendation. A Senate committee that oversees health issues made the same recommendation Wednesday.
While the bill has so far enjoyed little support in the Legislature, it’s backed by many state health care groups, including those representing hospitals and physicians.
A Wyoming Health Department study found that full expansion could save Wyoming $47 million over six years by allowing the state to spend less of its own money on other health programs. Opting out of the optional parts, in comparison, could cost the state $79 million.
The federal government has promised to initially cover the entire cost of covering newly eligible people. Eventually, the state would be required to pay 10 percent.
Opponents of the bill remain skeptical the federal government will honor its promises, especially given the deficit. Backers tried to alleviate this concern by including a trigger in the legislation that would allow the state to back out if the federal government doesn’t meet its obligations. But critics say it would be difficult for the state to reverse course once it offers an entitlement to a new group of people.
Supporters of expansion have other options should the Senate decide not to debate the bill. They could convince a House representative to sponsor mirror legislation, or attempt to have the matter included in the budget bill.
Regardless of what the Legislature decides, Wyoming must still expand coverage to roughly 10,600 newly eligible children and people who were already eligible for the program, but never enrolled.
Star-Tribune staff writer Laura Hancock contributed to this report.