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Medical Professionals: Who benefits from Medicaid expansion? Everyone.
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Medical Professionals: Who benefits from Medicaid expansion? Everyone.

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As Wyoming continues to recover from the impacts of COVID-19, we must take advantage of every available resource to propel our state forward. Medicaid expansion creates jobs, stimulates the economy and improves the health of our communities and workforce, but year after year, state policymakers have failed to take action.

Allowing Medicaid to cover the poorest and most vulnerable will improve health for all Wyomingites, strengthen our rural health care system and bring tens of millions of dollars in critical relief funding to our state. Now is the time for our lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

The opportunity has never been better, and it won’t last. The American Rescue Plan offers Wyoming and 11 other states that have not expanded Medicaid additional funding to offset the cost of expansion for two years. In Wyoming, this could mean an additional $54 million to pay for Medicaid expansion and invest in important state priorities like education and infrastructure.

Wyoming knows what’s best for people living in Wyoming. Our state leaders have the opportunity now to closely examine the offer on the table and make the choice to expand Medicaid to cover hard-working people with low-incomes. The other option that is being considered is having the federal government extend health insurance to those caught in the coverage gap.

Whether our state legislators can forge a path forward or the federal government steps in, there are numerous benefits of expanding access to health coverage in Wyoming.

About 24,000 low-income, uninsured Wyomingites stand to gain health coverage if Medicaid is expanded. Most of these folks are employed and all earn below 138% of the federal poverty level—about $1,500 a month for an individual or $3,000 a month for a family of four.

People with health insurance feel better, physically and mentally, and are financially protected from catastrophic debt. A robust body of evidence shows that state expansions of Medicaid are linked to better health outcomes and improved financial security for enrollees.

The Wyoming Department of Health projects that nearly half of new enrollees would be working women under the age of 35. Our state has one of the nation’s highest uninsured rates for women of childbearing age: nearly 1 in 5 women of reproductive age are uninsured, compared to 1 in 8 nationally. This has profound consequences for both the health of mothers and infants. States that expanded Medicaid have lower rates of maternal and infant mortality.

It’s not just the newly insured who stand to benefit from expansion. Our entire rural health care system will be stronger too. When people lack coverage, they often seek treatment at the emergency room, which comes with a hefty price tag. Hospitals in our state spend about $100 million a year providing care to those who can’t afford to pay. Uncompensated care consumes roughly 6% of a hospital’s overall expenditures in our state. This leads to cuts in services and higher costs and makes it even more difficult to recruit and retain quality physicians, which is a big challenge in our rural communities.

In many rural areas, the local hospital is the largest employer. The health of our hospitals and the health of our communities are linked, and Medicaid expansion can improve both.

Medicaid expansion is also good for the economy and state budgets. Look no further than Montana, which expanded Medicaid in 2015. According to a 2019 study, expansion provided $270 million in savings over five years, cut the uninsured rate in half, increased jobs in the health care sector and infused roughly $650 million into the state economy.

Thirty-eight states have expanded their Medicaid programs, recognizing its many benefits. In addition to Montana, our neighbors in Nebraska, Utah and Idaho have extended coverage to low-income residents. There is no reason Wyoming can’t do the same.

The economic benefits of Medicaid expansion are undeniable and the new incentives in the American Rescue Plan makes the move a fiscal no-brainer. As Wyoming continues to recover from the economic downturn, the federal relief dollars our legislators are leaving on the table could be a huge boost.

The evidence is clear. Medicaid expansion means healthier families, stronger communities and a better economy for all Wyomingites. It is time for our representatives to ensure that every resident of our state has access to quality health care.

Jan Cartwright is executive director of the Wyoming Primary Care Association.

Shelia Bush is executive director of the Wyoming Medical Society.

Eric Boley is president of the Wyoming Hospital Association

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