Rep. Dan Zwoniter

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming House is set to debate Thursday whether the state should move to expand the federal Medicaid program.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, is sponsoring a Medicaid-expansion amendment to the pending supplemental budget bill in the House. The Wyoming Senate earlier this month rejected a freestanding Medicaid expansion bill.

If the House approves Zwonitzer's amendment, it would go to a conference committee where a panel of representatives and senators must work out differences between the positions of both houses on the budget bill.

Zwonitzer said Wednesday that he expects the debate in the House to be lively but ultimately expects his expansion amendment to fail. And if the amendment can squeak through the House, he said he doesn't believe there's any chance the Senate would reverse itself and support Medicaid expansion.

Even so, Zwonitzer said he's heard from House members on both sides of the Medicaid expansion issue who are upset they haven't had a chance to debate the issue this session and want to be heard. A House committee spiked a pending House Medicaid expansion bill after the Senate voted against the issue.

"There are certainly strong opinions on both sides who want to be heard and are encouraging behind the scenes to have the debate," Zwonitzer said. His amendment calls for the state expansion to last only two years.

Expanding Medicaid would bring Wyoming more than $100 million a year in federal money to extend health insurance coverage to 17,600 low-income adults. Many expansion opponents say they don't trust federal promises to continue to fund the program.

Gov. Matt Mead had urged lawmakers going into this legislative session to approve an expansion bill. Expanding the federal program would help hospitals in the state, which face hundreds of millions of dollars a year in uncompensated costs from treating people who lack insurance, he said.

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Zwonitzer said he has the same concern as many other Republicans that funding for Medicaid expansion will evaporate in a few years despite federal promises.

"It's a need in my district," Zwonitzer said. "I've looked at the numbers. I think financially it makes sense. It saves the state of Wyoming money. It can save people's lives, and hopefully get people the proper health care they need."

Sen. President Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, said Wednesday that if the House approves the Medicaid expansion proposal as a budget amendment, it would be the Senate's obligation to examine it hard and consider whether House has found some new, workable approach.

However, Nicholas said that if the House sends over an amendment that's essentially the same as the expansion plan the Senate already has rejected, it will be very difficult to get that through a budget conference committee.

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