Pressure mounts to expand Medicaid during pandemic

 JACKSON, Wyo. – With more Wyoming residents losing their job-related health insurance during the current economic downturn, state lawmakers are giving the option of expanding Medicaid coverage a second look.

Loss of coverage during the coronavirus pandemic is expected to dramatically impact hospitals, particularly in rural parts of the state, as costs of uncompensated care increase.

Downturns in coal, oil, and gas, along with job cuts due to COVID, have lawmakers reconsidering the option of expanding Medicaid health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Jen Simon, senior policy advisor with the Equality State Policy Center. Courtesy photo

Jen Simon, senior policy advisor with the Equality State Policy Center, says this perfect storm has put residents in states like Wyoming that have not yet expanded coverage at greater risk than neighboring states.

“Forty percent of the newly unemployed population in non-expansion states will become uninsured. For states that have expanded the Medicaid health insurance program, far fewer people will lose health insurance coverage,” Simon said.

Simon points to polls showing that a majority of Wyomingites support expanding Medicaid to cover more residents.

While interest among lawmakers has picked up, a measure to expand Medicaid failed introduction in the first day of the 2020 Budget session last February on a 21-36 vote.

But would it pass in today’s climate?

Opponents of expansion have argued that Wyoming doesn’t need help from the federal government to take care of its residents, and warned that the state could be on the hook for additional costs if the Affordable Care Act implodes.

Simon notes that Wyoming would not be on the hook because the state could reverse expansion if the federal contribution to Medicaid fell below 90 percent. She adds that during the economic downturn, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table as the state faces budget shortfalls is fiscally irresponsible, and goes against the state’s values of taking care of its own.

“To turn down hundreds of millions of dollars that Wyoming citizens have already paid in federal income tax, that would be returned to our state to help our friends and neighbors and provide health insurance coverage,” Simon said.

Simon says loss of health coverage can be devastating for individuals and families, and entire economies especially in rural parts of the state where hospitals, which are economic engines and primary employers, face the prospects of bankruptcy. Hospitals and other care facilities are expected to see a spike in uncompensated care as people without coverage can’t pay their bills.

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