Departing Gov. Matt Mead predicted there will more appetite among legislators to expand Medicaid in Wyoming in the coming years, as efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act sputter.
“As long as the ACA continues to stay on the books, I think the appetite looking at it will be more than it has been during my term,” Mead told reporters at the Star-Tribune earlier this week.
Early on in his tenure as Wyoming’s governor, Mead had opposed expanding Medicaid and had even joined a lawsuit against the ACA, or Obamacare. But after that lawsuit failed, Mead changed positions and began to advocate for broadening the program and allowing more low-income Wyomingites to join the state rolls.
But his soon-to-be successor, Mark Gordon, has said he does not support Medicaid expansion, even after three nearby conservative-led states — Nebraska, Idaho and Utah — all passed ballot measures authorizing expansion. Gordon has said it is not the right solution for Wyoming and has pointed to Kentucky — which is in a state Medicaid deficit — as evidence that the expansion does not work everywhere.
But Mead predicted the political winds may shift in Wyoming. During the Obama administration and first year of the Trump administration, Republican candidates and politicians called for the ACA to be repealed and replaced. After months of throwing proposals against the wall in 2017, the GOP-controlled Congress was unable to completely torpedo the sweeping health law.
Mead predicted that as the ACA becomes more accepted as the law of the land, it will prompt Wyoming lawmakers — the vast majority of whom have showed zero interest in expansion — to more seriously consider the proposal.
“I think the longer that is on the books (and) it is not going away, I think that will spur the appetite, that legislators will say ‘Hey, this is this is the law, it looks like it’s going to be the law for a long time, and how many years are we going to ship out $100 million?’” Mead said.
If Wyoming were to expand the program, it would cover 10 percent of the added cost. The remaining 90 percent would be covered by the federal government. In September, Wyoming Health Department Director Tom Forslund told the Star-Tribune that had Wyoming expanded in 2012, it would’ve received $577 million from the federal government and more than 20,000 people would’ve qualified for care.
Mead said he didn’t think expansion would’ve passed had he supported it initially. Indeed, it took him losing the lawsuit against the ACA and realizing the legislation was the law of the land for him to throw his support behind the proposal.
“I think that political environment at that time, even if I would have day one said, ‘We’re going to expand,’ I just don’t think it was going to work,” he said.
“I thought it was constitutionally insufficient,” the governor continued. “I think that was the first lawsuit we joined in on, me and my attorney general. And we lost. ... And that’s when I said ‘OK, this is the law. So how do we make the best of it?’”
Expansion has received minimal support in the Legislature. Senate Majority Leader Chris Rothfuss, a Laramie Democrat, proposed a sweeping health care reform bill earlier this year that would’ve also broadened Medicaid. It died overwhelmingly at the first hurdle in the Senate, with just seven votes in favor and 23 against.