The debate over whether to expand Wyoming Medicaid will resume Tuesday when a legislative committee considers new alternatives for growing the government health program.

One approach would follow the Wyoming Department of Health’s recommendation to develop an alternative version of Medicaid that shares some similarities to private insurance. Another option would use Medicaid funding to help the poor buy private insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace.

The Legislature’s Labor, Health and Social Services Committee is scheduled to discuss those possibilities when it meets this week in Lander.

At stake is health coverage for roughly 17,000 low-income adults without children. They were denied coverage earlier this year when the Legislature overwhelmingly rejected optional parts of the Medicaid expansion called for in the Affordable Care Act.

Lawmakers at the time were skeptical of federal promises to fund the vast majority of the expansion. In the aftermath, Gov. Matt Mead asked state health officials to explore options for an expanded Medicaid program that better suits Wyoming’s needs.

Expanding Medicaid, which covers the poor and medically needy, would mean health coverage for nearly 20 percent of the state’s 89,000 uninsured residents. It could save the state $47 million over six years by allowing it to spend less on other health programs, according to a Health Department study published last year.

The decision to reject optional parts of the expansion last year is projected to cost the state $79 million.

In August, the Health Department released a report that examined five alternatives for expanding Medicaid. Agency officials recommended “Medicaid Fit” – a sort of middle ground between private insurance and the traditional program. It would provide more-limited benefits, while making recipients share in the cost of their care.

Mead has called Medicaid Fit the best option for Wyoming, should lawmakers decide to expand the program. But legislators are also expected to discuss a second approach, which was developed in Arkansas. That option would use Medicaid dollars to buy private insurance for people with low incomes.

Some legislators prefer the Arkansas-style approach since it would offer better reimbursement rates for providers, while potentially allowing people to continue with their existing insurance company.

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com. Visit http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.

(1) comment

Jackalope

Any effort that would save the state $47 million and provide basic health care for 18,000 Wyomingites would appear to be a bargain to anyone except a panel of ideologues. If I remember, there was substantial approval of a plan to pick up roadkill and serve in to those who were lacking in resources to obtain food.

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