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County Dems to push for expanded Medicaid

Feb 4, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Fremont County Democrats say they are hoping to help working-class people get health insurance by pushing for the Wyoming Legislature to expand Medicaid. At a Jan. 19 meeting, the county party passed a resolution supporting the expansion.

The federal Affordable Car Act allows states to offer the federal health insurance program to people with higher incomes than were eligible before, and the federal government will pick up most of the added cost.

"We're encouraging what we think is a compassionate solution and what we think is a common sense solution and that is saving the state of Wyoming a significant amount of dollars," said FCD chairman Bruce Palmer.

About 17,000 Wyoming adults are ineligible for either Medicaid or subsidized health insurance through the new federal exchange created by the ACA, according to a Jan. 6 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Wyoming Legislature in 2013 vote against accepting federal dollars to extend Medicaid coverage to those people.

Democrats are conservative with their expectations.

"We're trying to push as best we can, recognizing it's definitely a Republican-dominated legislature here," Palmer said. "I think just keeping this issue in front of people, talking with our legislators about it (are ways FCD can support it)."

In Wyoming, adults without children are cannot receive medicaid benefits and cannot get subsidized insurance if their incomes are below the poverty level. Adults with children who make more than 56 percent of the poverty level are ineligible for Medicaid, but if they earn less than 100 percent of the poverty level they also cannot receive subsidized health insurance.

The Medicaid expansion set out in ACA would cover those people.

"Those who will be included in Medicaid expansion are working class folks, generally working minimum-wage jobs without benefits," Palmer said.

FCD members spoke with lawmakers at the Legislature's Joint Labor and Health committee meeting in Lander in November and demonstrated outside. The local party also is coordinating with Fremont County's lone Democratic legislator, Rep. Patrick Goggles, of Ethete, to push the issue, Palmer said.

Federal guarantee

Under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. government would pay all of the cost of the expansion for a few years, then amount would decrease to 90 percent. Republican arguments that the state cannot count on the federal government to make good on that promise are not convincing to the FCD chairman.

Wyoming counts on federal dollars for highways, schools, mineral severance taxes and the Abandoned Mine Lands program, already, Palmer said.

"I see us fighting to keep those dollars, and I think we should, but to say some dollars are worth fighting for and other dollars we'll just turn up our nose to is just ridiculous," he said.

The Legislature's Labor and Health committee on Jan. 10 approved advancing two bills expanding Medicaid to a lesser degree than Democrats are calling for. One, called "Medicaid Fit," would offer more limited benefits, and the other, referred to as the "Arkansas model," would take the federal Medicaid funding and use it to buy private health insurance.

Both would save the state less money and offer worse benefits than expanding "traditional Medicaid," Palmer said.

Vacation, wages

FCD supports two other measures Palmer says are aimed at helping working people.

The first would repeal a law the Legislature passed in 2012. The act allows employers to take away employees' accrued vacation time when they retire, resign or are fired if the employee and employer have a written agreement.

"People work their job, earn their vacation and to have that taken away seems unfair," Palmer said.

Before the new law passed, the state Attorney General's office held workers were entitled to be paid for accrued time-off when they left their jobs.

The other would raise the state's minimum wage to $9 from the current level of $5.15. Many Wyoming businesses must follow the federal minimum wage of $7.25 because they are engaged in interstate commerce.

"It's a growing concern because it just hasn't kept pace with inflation, Palmer said. "A minimum wage earner has less buying power than they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago."