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2018 Wyoming Legislature

Sen. Larry Hicks listens to Gov. Matt Mead's State of the State address on Feb. 12 during the joint session of the Wyoming Legislature at the Jonah Business Center in Cheyenne. Hicks has sponsored legislation that would add a work requirement to Wyoming's Medicaid program. Officials estimate it would affect at least 2,500 of the program's nearly 60,000 regular recipients.

It’s not surprising that lawmakers are looking at ways to reign in Medicaid spending, with a looming funding shortfall in the Department of Health. The $32 million deficit in the health department is expected to more than double by 2030. And the growing bubble of Medicaid recipients is bound to pop unless the funding problem is solved soon.

But a Senate bill introduced last week that aims to institute work requirements for some Medicaid recipients is not the solution the state needs.

The bill, which would require the health department to apply for a waiver from the federal government to institute a work requirement, is problematic for a number of reasons. For one, it will likely have a minimal effect on the Medicaid deficit. There are about 60,000 people receiving Medicaid in the state. Of those, the Department of Health estimates that 2,500 to 3,500 would be affected by a work requirement.

That’s because the requirement would only apply to healthy, able-bodied adults who are receiving Medicaid due to economic reasons. And those are few and far between.

Care for the elderly and disabled drives the majority of the state’s Medicaid costs. According to a department spokesperson, the top 5 percent of recipients account for 51 percent of the cost.

The work requirement, then, wouldn’t address the main reasons why Medicaid spending is increasing. At the same time, it would only further stereotype people who rely on the coverage to pay for their health care. The misconception that those receiving aid are lazy and unwilling to work is harmful to people who need that aid in order to receive crucial medical treatment, and through no fault of their own, can’t afford the care.

The hefty task of solving the statewide budget deficit has left lawmakers grappling to find any way to reduce excesses in the budget. So we understand the urge to cut any fat from financially costly programs like Medicaid.

But lawmakers pushing this kind of Medicaid reform are ignoring the real issues driving those costs. They are avoiding the difficult conversations how do we cover low-income patients with demanding, and expensive, medical needs. And that’s the real danger here. Because in passing this kind of pointless legislation, lawmakers create the illusion that they’re solving a problem instead addressing one that doesn’t really exist.

There are legitimate concerns surrounding Medicaid – this bill addresses none of them.

Lawmakers need to look deeper than the 3,500 people and the funding they account for. They need to get their hands dirty and figure out why Medicaid is so costly, instead of passing legislation that’s more harmful than helpful.

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Opinion Editor

Dallas Bower joined the Star-Tribune copy desk in June 2017. She studied English at the University of Wyoming. Her favorite book is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, or Harry Potter, depending on the day.

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