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Governor: It’s time to expand Medicaid in Wyoming

Gov. Matt Mead speaks during the Wyoming Press Association Winter Convention in Cheyenne Friday afternoon. Mead discussed the 2015 legislative session and fielded questions from journalists during the annual event. Gov. Matt Mead speaks during the Wyoming Press Association Winter Convention in Cheyenne Friday afternoon. Mead discussed the 2015 legislative session and fielded questions from journalists during the annual event. Tribune photo by Tom Lawrence

CHEYENNE — Gov. Matt Mead still doesn’t like the Affordable Care Act and still questions whether it’s financially sustainable. But he says it’s time for Wyoming to use the federal money made available in the act (often called Obamacare or the ACA) to help lower-income residents with their medical bills.

Mead’s administration has proposed a plan that would expand Medicaid benefits to thousands of uninsured Wyomingites under the health care law.

“We don’t have to like the (Affordable Care Act); we can agree that it needs to continue to be fixed, if not done away with, but we are in a place now where we’re rejecting $100 million a year that is going to other states, in a place now where we have legitimate needs — 17,000-plus Wyoming citizens, many of whom are hard-working,” Mead said Friday, as he addressed representatives of the state’s newspapers.

Currently, people qualify for Medicaid only if their income is low and they meet certain conditions (like being pregnant or disabled). The Wyoming Department of Health’s proposed SHARE plan, following Affordable Care Act guidelines, would make Medicaid healthcare help available to anyone making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (around $16,100 for an individual; $32,900 for a family of four).

Under the Department of Health’s proposal, those covered under the plan would have to pay certain deductibles when they receive care, and people making between 101 and 138 percent of the poverty level would have to also pay monthly premiums. The program would end if the federal government backed out of its promises to foot at least 90 percent of the costs.

The Legislature’s health committee disfavors the SHARE plan; it has recommended an alternative plan that instead would give the covered individuals health savings accounts. The committee’s leaders believe a health saving account would help ensure people have a financial stake in their health care decisions and don’t overuse the system.

Mead said he believes the SHARE plan would be cost-neutral and less expensive to the state than the alternatives he’s seen, but that he’s open to suggestions.

“What I don’t want is for us to go through this and the Legislature will say, ‘We don’t like the SHARE plan so we have no plan,’” Mead said.

The governor said the state has been passing on the federal money for four years while working men and woman can’t afford healthcare and state hospitals absorb some $200 million a year in uncompensated care. He said now is the time to move forward.

In other remarks:

The governor said plummeting oil prices should concern everyone across the country, given the jobs the industry directly and indirectly supports. Every $5 drop in oil prices costs Wyoming $35 million, Mead said.

But he said it’s not the time for Wyoming to be hoarders.

“We do not want to have a self-fulfilling prophecy here where we put out a closed sign and say, ‘We don’t have any money and so we’re stopping everything,’” Mead said. “We shouldn’t do that and, in my mind, we can’t do that.”

He said the state should keep saving, but that it’s also time for the state to have a conversation about its reserves and when it’s time to tap into them. Mead would also like a more transparent fiscal process.

For example, he said a recent revenue forecast suggests the state has no money to spend, but that doesn’t recognize the record amount of savings socked away in recent years.

Mead still opposes legalizing marijuana in Wyoming.

“I’m not trying to be pig-headed on this,” the governor said. “We will watch and we will see (what happens in Colorado), but I don’t think it is the right direction for Wyoming.”

He’s unconvinced that Colorado’s additional tax dollars and “marijuana tourism” will surpass the impacts to traditional tourism, law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and other areas.

Nebraska and Oklahoma have each sued Colorado over its legalization of the drug, saying it has negatively impacted them, but Mead indicated he won’t join that fight.

“My position, if we could get there, wouldn’t necessarily be to sue the state of Colorado; it would be to sue the federal government and the Department of Justice,” Mead said. Possession and distribution of marijuana remains a federal crime, but the Obama administration has decided not to enforce the laws in states where it’s been legalized.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate way for the federal government, the Department of Justice, to ignore an entire set of laws, because in effect then you are changing law — and that should be an act of Congress, not an act of an individual man deciding what he would like to do,” said Mead, a former federal prosecutor.

President Obama’s call to provide free community college educations to all citizens isn’t being echoed by Mead. While praising the value of Wyoming’s community colleges and saying it’s important for them to remain inexpensive, the governor believes students should have some “skin in the game.”

“Education is so important that it is worth some amount of sacrifice,” Mead said.

Two terms as governor is enough, and Mead said he plans to return to ranching after completing the second four-year term that he began this month.

“Even if, in the future, we have the best governor ever, I think it’s important to have that turnover,” Mead said.

He said he supports a current or former governor for president in 2016, listing several potential Republican candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

4 comments

  • posted by Stephen Adams

    March 03, 2015 9:42 am

    In response to Mr. Kuntz:

    1) You seem strangely ready to throw around words like "treason" over a simple disagreement involving healthcare reform. What's up with that?

    2) Medicaid expansion would cover, for example, a single mother working full time at a small business for the federal minimum wage. Are you saying jobs like this aren't actually jobs?

    3) The whole "Give a man a fish" proverb does not apply here. The mentally retarded, for instance, will never be able to catch enough fish to buy private health insurance.

    4) You mention the Insurance Mob, a point on which we can both agree. Does this mean you would support single-payer public insurance as an alternative (or a supplement) to private insurance? Why or why not?

  • posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    January 23, 2015 7:27 am

    Well versed,Chris.But I doubt the fools who keep electing these flip floppers will deviate from their short sided blinder habits.

  • posted by Christopher Kuntz

    January 22, 2015 5:06 am

    "Gov. Matt Mead still doesn’t like the Affordable Care Act and still questions whether it’s financially sustainable. But he says it’s time for Wyoming to use the federal money made available in the act (often called Obamacare or the ACA) to help lower-income residents with their medical bills."

    TRANSLATED: The hospital lobby, consisting of 5 of the 6 hospitals discussed in the last issue, have pooled patient payments, and instead of paying for qualified staff, and upgrading draconian equipment & recruiting qualified staff, Mead took this Lobbyist money from the hospitals, and hit the trail, with his #1 greatest concern of course... the welfare of my family & yours (cue vomiting sound).

    Hey Matt... ObamaCare costs me over $1,900 a month for a family of 4, and that is just for the privilege of having a plastic card in my pocket, I am still stick with co-pays, and a hospital still reeling from $800,000 being embezzled.

    I still have to go through every test known to mankind, Why? because Doctor's practice "Defensive Medicine". Why? Because weak flip flopping leaders, such as yourself, won't stare down the lawyers, who do not want Tort reform to injure their bottom line. Weak flip flopping Leaders, like you, don't want to investigate the Insurance Mob, for they want their monopoly left intact. Hospitals, want to bill the taxpayers for every single test they possibly can, that is what all the new "patient software" directs doctors to do.

    Lower income families...? Get them a job, not more handouts !! The trades are booming. This I know for a fact.

    The more you give a man a fish, the more that man depends on you to eat! This is not Rocket Science !!!

    Matt Mead, you are, like Barack Hussein Obama, the largest fraud ever pulled on the Wyoming voters.

    Every man has his price... I guess the Hospital lobby found yours. Your flip flopping... in a faceless act of treason, against the voters who elected you to represent them!

  • posted by Salty Dawg

    January 20, 2015 8:54 am

    Mead is a flip flopping RINO.First he was against the expansion now he is for it.You RINO's sure got a whopper there.

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