Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wyoming legislators: All hat and no cattle

Not a week goes by that some struggling Wyoming family doesn’t hold a bake sale or a spaghetti dinner in a futile attempt to raise money to pay medical bills. If Governor Matt Mead and the other governors who joined in the lawsuit seeking the demise of the Affordable care Act have their way, those bake sales and spaghetti dinners may be all that the thousands of uninsured Wyomingites will have left to meet their health care needs.

Wyoming legislators proved they have nothing to offer on healthcare when they defeated the only effort the state has made to address this problem where they claim it should be addressed, at the state level. Despite plaintive calls for the protection of state’s rights under the 10th Amendment, Wyoming legislators are all hat and no cattle when it comes to crafting legitimate alternatives to federal healthcare legislation.

They created a program called Healthy Frontiers. Its supporters touted it as an alternative to Medicaid. They enrolled 105 families who otherwise had no health insurance. Then they killed the program leaving the Governor scrambling to figure out what to do with those 105 families and what to do about his claim that the state can do it and the feds ought to mind their own business.

Senator Charles Scott, unlike many of his esteemed colleagues, has given it a yeoman’s try.  But the Governor and Senator Scott were forced to admit members of their own party believe the talking points have a priority over actually using state’s rights to do something. “One of the pushbacks on Healthy Frontiers was the notion that government should not be involved in health care,” Mead said.  One of the members of the Appropriations Committee where the program met its demise is Rep. Sue Wallis, who said, Some Representatives are just uncomfortable with creating a local version of the federal mess.”

As Senator Scott noted, what we are doing now is not free, either of costs or of federal involvement. “Well, we are involved. We have Medicaid and nationally we have Medicare.  You have to be realistic and they aren’t.”
Scott was talking pointedly about the leaders of his own party, a party controlling all but 14 of the 90 seats in the legislature.  Speaker of the House Ed Buchanan, an opponent of Healthy Frontiers, made clear he had his sights set on taking it down though he offered no alternative vision. “Leadership really sent the message that we were opposed to Healthy Frontiers,” said Rep. Rosie Berger, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, turning the term “legislative leadership” into an oxymoron.
If the legislature refuses to take responsibility and exercise the rights they claim under the 10th Amendment, that leaves only a couple of choices for people. Bake sales and spaghettis dinners or the Affordable Care Act, which those legislators who have no ideas of their own derisively call “Obamacare.” Even Governor Mead understands the last hope may well be the law his lawyers were in court this week trying to kill. “Whether Healthy Frontiers is the answer or not, we still have to look for answers,” Mead said. “We do need to try these things.” According to Mead the other options include a bill he signed into law authorizing state health care exchanges. That, by the way, is a significant element of what he calls “Obamacare.”
There have always been legitimate questions about whether Healthy Frontiers is a viable alternative to real healthcare reform. Yet it was something if nothing more than a legitimate effort at a state solution. The work of conservatives to kill it makes clear they are all hat no cattle on this issue but they don’t care much about those families holding bake sales and spaghetti dinners. Perhaps it is time for those struggling families to look at their own alternatives…at the ballot box this November.

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