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Women's Foundation: Expanding Medicaid benefits all citizens — especially Wyoming women.
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Women's Foundation: Expanding Medicaid benefits all citizens — especially Wyoming women.

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The economic downturn in the past year found many previously working Wyomingites without employer-sponsored healthcare. They don’t have enough income to purchase health insurance or health care on their own. At the same time, many in Wyoming have faced new health challenges associated with COVID-19.

Yet, Wyoming remains one of only 12 states that hasn’t expanded the Medicaid health insurance program.

Currently, Medicaid does not provide healthcare to Wyoming’s poorest adults without children—those earning less than $12,880, or 100% of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL). These are workers who earn too little to qualify for income-based care costs or subsidies through the insurance exchange.

People in Wyoming making $12,880 or less cannot afford healthcare. They also don’t qualify for Medicaid, and they can’t access the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace. They are stuck in the coverage gap.

Expanding Medicaid would solve this problem — and bring hundreds of millions of dollars into our state. Adults making up to 138% of the FPL ($17,774 for a single person) would have access to healthcare.

Why does the Wyoming Women’s Foundation care about Medicaid expansion?

The Wyoming Department of Health estimates that almost half of expected newly eligible enrollees will be working women who are younger than 35 years old.

At the Wyoming Women’s Foundation, we researched and built a Self-Sufficiency Standard Calculator for Wyoming 2020. That’s how we know that in Natrona County a single adult must earn more than $22,000 per year ($10.56 hourly) to meet their most basic living expenses without financial help from work support programs, family or friends.

The Self-Sufficiency Calculator also tells us that single women living below the poverty line (earnings less than $12,880) do not earn enough to meet their basic needs. Rather than going without food or paying rent, those women avoid seeking healthcare in order to pay other bills. Their resulting poor health inhibits their ability to work and live full lives.

Poor health of Wyoming working women hurts more than individual women; it hurts Wyoming. Medicaid expansion has the potential to improve the well being and health of enrollees. It’s especially known to help mental health, improve pregnancy outcomes, reduce maternal mortality and morbidity, and reduce poverty among women.

A healthy workforce is key to the success of Wyoming’s economy and women are a key to Wyoming’s workforce.

Improving health and well being for Wyoming workers and those seeking work is good for our state. Healthy workers miss less work and perform better at their jobs. Increasing individuals’ access to healthcare and providing payments to hospitals caring for them through Medicaid expansion would enable more positive outcomes for those struggling to make ends meet.

Right now, there are three bills in front of the Wyoming Legislature that would expand Medicaid. They come at a perfect time. The federal government is offering a $120M incentive for Wyoming to join the 38 other states that have expanded Medicaid, allowing nearly 30,000 more Wyomingites to access care.

The same federal bill would include the option to extend Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) eligibility to women for 12 months after they give birth — another win for Wyoming women and families.

States that have expanded Medicaid have already shown that post-natal outcomes are improved for women and babies in these states. Wyoming would benefit by investing in these infants and their mothers. When moms are healthy they can provide better care for their babies during the first year of life when critical brain development occurs.

Let’s ensure all Wyoming citizens have access to the care they need and deserve. Medicaid expansion is good for women working hard to pay their bills, and it’s good for Wyoming. When we invest in policies that facilitate individuals’ ability to work towards greater economic self-sufficiency, it benefits us all.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the pandemic to Wyoming, there are many reasons to expand Medicaid and increase access to healthcare for the citizens of Wyoming — especially Wyoming women. The time is ripe to invest in health for Wyoming.

Rebekah Smith is director of the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.

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