CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming lawmakers have once again voted against expanding the federal Medicaid health insurance program to cover more people in the state.
The all-Republican Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee voted 3-2 Wednesday to kill a Medicaid expansion bill that narrowly passed the House last week. Wyoming is among a dozen states that have not yet expanded Medicaid under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
A new federal incentive and the 32-28 House vote to send the bill to the Senate raised supporters' hopes that Wyoming would change course after a decade of rejecting Medicaid expansion.
Concerns about long-term costs to the state and the growing U.S. national debt prevailed, however.
"Where are we going to get the money to fund this program? Even in this state, we're asking people to cut back over and over and over. Now we're saying let's jump on this program where the federal government is promising all this money for two years," said Sen. Lynn Hutchings, a Republican from Cheyenne who was among the committee members voting against the bill.
"We're not just trying to run into it - we're sprinting into debt," Hutchings added.
A similar bill originating in the state Senate died when legislative leaders there didn't bring it to a vote before a deadline to act last week, meaning the proposal is dead for another year.
The bills would have offered coverage to people with income at or below 138% of the federal poverty level yet don't qualify for premium subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
The latest federal economic stimulus package included a 5% increase in federal funds for the Medicaid program that could have meant a $120 million annual incentive for expansion in Wyoming for two years.
The incentive would have more than offset the $20 million estimated annual cost to the state while extending coverage to an estimated 24,000 Wyoming residents.
The committee took testimony from dozens of people on both sides of the issue including Raymond Ward, a Republican state representative and physician from Utah. Medicaid expansion has helped Utah's rural hospitals and even allowed people there to get drug addiction treatment, Ward said.
"I'd say overall it's gone very well for us in Utah," Ward told the committee. "It has done what it was intended to do."
Utah has sources of revenue, including an almost 5% state income tax, that Wyoming doesn't to help pay for Medicaid, countered committee member Sen. Anthony Bouchard, a Cheyenne Republican who voted against the bill.
The Wyoming Business Alliance endorsed the bill with its president, Cindy DeLancey, calling it a "recruitment and retention issue" for businesses.
"Only healthy people can work. We need people have who have access to healthcare in our state," DeLancey told the committee.
But attorney Cassie Craven with the conservative Wyoming Liberty Group lobbying organization doubted the federal government would simply let Wyoming back out of Medicaid expansion after a couple years if things don't go well, as the bill provided.
"I think the state of Wyoming will get sued if it tries to get out of this," Craven told lawmakers.
Sen. Fred Baldwin, of Afton, the committee's chairman, urged lawmakers to at least send the bill to the full Senate for debate but was joined only by Sen. Dan Furphy, of Afton, in voting to do so. Hutchings, Bouchard and Troy McKeown, of Cheyenne, voted against the bill.