Sunday, February 17, 2013

Will Wyoming be left alone...again?


State Senator Eli Bebout says Wyoming can wait another year to expand Medicaid. He speaks like someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to be uninsured. Governor Mead says Wyoming needs “more answers.” They remind me of the old adage, “Either lead, follow or get out the hell out of the way. If he doesn’t do one or the other, Mead may well become the only governor in America refusing to expand Medicaid coverage to the uninsured.

Nearly every other Republican governor is aboard. Recently Rick Snyder of Michigan embraced Medicaid expansion, the latest conservative Republican governor to figure out what’s best for his state. Snyder joins several anti-Obamacare Republican governors signing on, including Arizona’s Jan Brewer and Ohio's John Kasich. Republican governors in North Dakota, Nevada and New Mexico have done the right thing for their people.

The National Journal reports even Florida Governor Rick Scott is wavering. Although Texas Governor and Tea Party darling Rick Perry promises resistance, some GOP legislators are planning to join. Of course.  The Urban Institute calculates each would receive $7 in federal aid for every $1 contributed to expanding coverage.

But not Governor Mead. Not Wyoming’s GOP legislators. They are standing firm, if alone, willing to needlessly spend millions of your tax dollars while leaving constituents uninsured to score meaningless political points. Wyoming has 30,000 uninsured people and spends multi-millions providing a patchwork of medical care programs for them. Our hospitals lose 200 million dollars annually caring for uninsured patients. But Wyoming Republicans prefer to represent those who hate Obamacare more than they care about the health of their neighbors.

Last year, the Governor used your tax dollars on a quixotic joust to convince the Supreme Court that Obamacare was unconstitutional. He’s a lawyer who should have known better. The Supreme Court said Mead was wrong, that Obama was right.

However, the high court ruled that under Obamacare the expansion of Medicaid was optional. Governors could decide. The Tea Partiers pressed governors to resist Medicaid expansion as a way of fighting Obamacare despite clear evidence it will reduce the numbers of uninsured, save millions in tax dollars, improve the healthcare system and provide needed medical care to those who now suffer and die early from a lack of that care.

That mattered little to Matt Mead and most GOP legislators. The most indecisive governor in Wyoming history shrugged his shoulders even after the director of his own health department said expansion of Medicaid was the best fiscal decision the state could make. Told that Medicaid expansion could save the lives of uninsured people while saving state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, Mead said in effect, “This decision is to tough for me. I am only the governor. I will let the legislature decide.” Perhaps he thought they’d have the courage and empathy he lacked. They didn’t.

Meanwhile nearly every other Republican governor has decided that politics be damned, Medicaid expansion is a good deal. Wyoming’s governor and legislators have operated on myths while other Republicans have decided the facts and their people matter more. For GOPers outside of Wyoming it makes sense. The federal government will initially cover 100 percent of the costs, declining to 90 percent in a few years.

Senator Charlie Scott, the self-appointed healthcare guru in Wyoming told colleagues, with absolutely no evidence, the feds won’t pay. The lemmings lined up and Wyoming’s people will pay the price. You will continue to pay millions of dollars to provide health care for the uninsured and you’ll continue paying for uncompensated care at local hospitals.

Other states with genuinely fiscally conservative governors and legislatures will be able to end the programs they have funded to fill the gap. The taxpayers in their states will save millions, their uninsured will have insurance and preventive care, and their hospitals will no longer shift the costs of the uninsured to those with insurance.

But not here. Not Wyoming. We settled for a governor who believes he was elected to serve only some of the people and legislators who were elected to serve even fewer.



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