Remember the lawmakers in the recently completed session of the Wyoming state Legislature? They’re the ones who left a band of working poor Wyomingites out to dry in terms of medical coverage.
These fellow citizens of the Cowboy State aren’t necessarily unemployed. But they’re not millionaires either. Many are working poor. Think single moms working overtime to tend a family while also working part-time elsewhere. Think a single person caring for a bedridden loved one, and then going out to work the night shift. They’re our friends, our neighbors.
They want health care, but they can’t get it. They’re in the middle of a health care doughnut hole.
They don’t earn enough to buy it outright. They don’t work for employers who offer coverage. They earn too little to qualify for subsidies that will let them buy coverage through new federally mandated health insurance plan online supermarkets, known as exchanges. Yet they make too much money to qualify for the federal Medicaid program.
The Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, was designed to cover those caught in that gap. But the Supreme Court gave states the right to choose whether they would partner with the federal government to cover many of the adults stuck in the doughnut hole.
Many did. But Wyoming lawmakers chose not to.
Their chief reason? They were worried that the federal government wouldn’t follow through on its promises to cover most of the cost of expanded Medicaid.
We certainly empathize with the doubts about federal funding. Wyoming has at times been well served by its distrust of federal promises. The recent federal theft of Wyoming’s cut of Abandoned Mine Lands funds show the federal government can change its mind.
But Medicaid is an exemption. The Obama administration fought a long and difficult battle for its health care reform, and spent a great deal of political capital to do so, as did its allies in Congress.
It’s simply ludicrous to expect an administration that fought so hard on what it considers a marquee issue to simply walk away from the financial commitments needed to back it up.
The state’s lawmakers said they wanted more time to study the issue. They need plenty of time to mull it over, they said.
But they should consider appropriating some thought for the Wyomingites they’ve doomed to the doughnut hole of fear: The crippling concern that one health care crisis could wipe out years of savings.
By leaving the doughnut hole open, the Wyoming Legislature also failed to grasp a chance to lower health care bills and make the federal government pay more of unpaid hospital bills in the state.
Some who can’t pay big health care bills simply won’t. Those costs are passed on to other patients with coverage. By covering those in the doughnut hole, state lawmakers had a chance to reduce the amount of medical costs shifted onto patients with insurance, which could mean reduced costs. They chose not to.
Instead of forcing other patients to cover the bills of those who couldn’t pay, state lawmakers could’ve spread thin the cost by shifting the expense to the taxpayers, a bill largely covered by the federal government under the Medicaid expansion plan. Lawmakers chose not to do that either.
It’s embarrassing the Legislature ignored the working poor and missed other opportunities by ignoring the doughnut hole. It’s a shameful decision that hurts instead of helps those who already help themselves. Indeed, this decision actually encourages the working poor to either earn more money, which may not be possible, or earn less to merit Medicaid health coverage. That’s not what Wyoming should encourage.
State lawmakers might have all the time they need.
But that’s a luxury thousands of their fellow Wyomingites don’t have.