“What we got heah…is failyah to communicate.”
If you’re old enough to have seen Paul Newman play “Cool Hand Luke,” you’ll remember. The captain of the Southern prison road crew said this just before Luke was killed.
The hopes of nearly 18 thousand low-income, mostly working Wyoming people were killed by the legislature last week, just as dead as Luke. It wasn’t because of a failure to communicate.
It was a failure of honest leadership starting with Governor Matt Mead. He’s so afraid of his own shadow he doesn’t emerge from his hole as often as Punxsutawney Phil. After this year’s defeat, Mead emerged long enough to say, "We must recognize what health care means to individuals and to our economy. While I respect different views, the fact is today we are left with working poor without coverage.” He was right…finally.
This “leader” spent three years telling legislators Medicaid expansion was a bad idea. He wrote the talking points Republican legislators used to poison the well.
The blatant dishonesty reached peaks seldom realized in the legislature. We’ve come to expect nothing less from Senator Charlie Scott. Scott has served since Jimmy Carter was president. He’s made a career of harming low-income workers. He successfully fought workplace safety and adequate wages. He gerrymandered legislative districts to assure one-party control.
During the debate, Scott warned legislators not to trust the feds. While depositing thousands of dollars from agricultural subsidies into his own bank account, Scott said, "You know that because when you look at their finances, they’re in bad trouble across the United States."
Sen. Leland Christensen said, “Wyoming needs to find its own way to take care of the uninsured.” He said the Affordable Care Act is not the answer. The disingenuousness of this proclamation is evidenced by the fact that during the years-long debate on Obamacare and Medicaid expansion, neither Christensen nor any of his colleagues have offered a single idea for doing so. Not one.
Then there’s Sen. Larry Hicks who says, “The federal government has crippling debt. This puts us one step closer to economic collapse.” Wyoming, the argument goes, must help reduce the federal debt by refusing this program, but, only this one.
This assertion flunks the “pants-on-fire” test. These same legislators are willing to rely on the federal government to balance the state budget. The state constitution requires they balance that budget. They can do so only because nearly 20% of it comes from Washington.
They can’t balance the state’s budget without violating the arguments they make against Medicaid expansion. Yet neither Hicks nor Scott nor any of their anti-Medicaid colleagues have ever suggested Wyoming reject any of that money. They reserve that specious argument for dollars that could otherwise provide healthcare for low-income working people.
Then there’s Tony Ross. He was the only Laramie County state senator voting against Medicaid. Ross’s argument? He didn’t really have one of his own. He just mimicked Charlie Scott despite the fact that Medicaid experts proved Charlie’s “facts” untrustworthy. Ross has the position and the wherewithal to lead. But he decided to follow and to follow the wrong man.
When the legislature killed Medicaid expansion this year, they did so knowing their votes will cost Wyoming taxpayers at least 100 million dollars each biennium. They knew their votes rejected tens of millions more that could have been used to improve the state’s health infrastructure and local economies while providing more than 800 new jobs. They knew some hospitals in the state wouldn’t survive because of the financial hemorrhaging caused by the cost of uncompensated care for the uninsured. They knew 18,000 people would be needlessly left without health insurance meaning many will get far sicker than need be and some will die prematurely.
They also knew the arguments they made against the bill were entirely bogus.
Unlike Cool Hand Luke, Medicaid expansion wasn’t killed because of any “failyah to communicate.” They knew the truth. The bill died because of a willful “failyah of political honestly.”