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Budget bill passed, includes Medicaid study

Mar 4, 2014 - By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- Both houses of the Wyoming Legislature passed a budget bill Monday that calls on Gov. Matt Mead and other Wyoming officials to investigate whether they can reach an agreement with the federal government to expand Medicaid on the state's terms.

The Senate voted 20-10 to approve the general government appropriations bill including the Medicaid negotiation language. The provision wouldn't allow any expansion of the Medicaid program in the state without future legislative approval.

The approval came despite strong warnings from Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, that preparing the study would make it more difficult for the state to resist expanding the program next year.

"My conscience tells me, my experience tells me, we're looking at a considerable expansion of government," Scott said, adding that he fears expanding the program would do harm to the state. He said he believes that Medicaid encourages people to use medical services excessively.

As chairman of the Senate Health, Labor and Social Services Committee, Scott declined to allow his committee to vote on a bill earlier this legislative session to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid to add 17,600 low-income adults. The House likewise defeated accepting outright funding for the Medicaid expansion.

However, a House-Senate conference committee on the budget agreed to language that would call on state officials to work with the federal government to see if the state could negotiate with federal officials to reach agreement on a plan called a demonstration waiver that differs from conventional Medicaid expansion.

Expanding Medicaid is a fundamental element of the federal Affordable Care Act. The Wyoming Legislature last year rejected $50 million in federal funds for the Medicaid expansion.

Mead, in his State of the State address last month, urged lawmakers to continue to resist expanding the federal program. He has said the state can't trust federal promises to continue to fund the program in years to come.

Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee, said studying the issue would at least allow Wyoming to determine what its options are.

"Up until now, because of legislative action, we have not been able to negotiate with the federal government," Schiffer said.

"This is the first time we've had an opportunity to go find out what chips are on the table and what are not," he said.

The Wyoming Democratic Party has attempted to rally around the Medicaid expansion issue. The party has held news conferences recently featuring uninsured people who would be covered by expanding the program.

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Legislature, Wyoming