By Ramsey Scott
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE — A bill working its way through the state Senate would put work requirements on certain Medicaid and food assistance recipients in Wyoming.
Supporters see it as a way to help people ease their way off government assistance. Opponents, including the state’s hospitals, see it as transitioning the burden of care away from the government and onto medical providers.
Senate File 144 would require able-bodied recipients of Medicaid between the ages of 19 and 64 to put in 20 hours a week through a combination of work, schooling, workforce training or volunteering with a local nonprofit. The new requirements wouldn’t apply to someone who’s pregnant, a parent or guardian of a child age 6 or younger, or the primary caregiver of someone who has a serious medical condition or disability.
The bill was approved Monday by the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for the first of three possible readings. Even if the bill becomes law, Wyoming would still have to apply to the federal government for a waiver to institute work requirements for the Medicaid program.
According to SF 144’s fiscal note, about 3,200 people currently enrolled in Medicaid could be subject to the bill’s requirements. Of those, it’s estimated about 1,700 would be kicked off for not meeting the 20-hours-a-week standard.
That would cost Wyoming an estimated $5.6 million in federal funds, but also mean the state would spend $5.6 million less in Medicaid payments.
SF 144’s sponsor, Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said the goal is to get people off government assistance and provide them with the opportunity to become economically sustainable. While the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as SNAP, has work requirements, Hicks said he wanted them to be in line with any Medicaid requirements.
“Let’s make one thing really clear: The last thing I’m concerned about is a drain on (state) resources,” Hicks said after the committee meeting. “What I’m concerned about is people’s lives and helping to facilitate people getting off of government dependence and sustenance.”
Hicks left open the definition of what a workforce program could be to capture various activities associated with job hunting. He said providing transportation and other assistance for job seekers to ensure their success were issues that should be addressed moving forward.
Andrea Hixon is a program team manager with Wyoming Department of Workforce Services. She said job seekers the state works with could need anything from help finishing a high school education to on-the-job training with an eager employer to get into the workforce.
But one of the first steps when dealing with a new client is to make sure they have their basic needs met, Hixon said. That means ensuring they have access to stable housing, food, medical coverage and transportation.
Many clients can’t become stable employees if they don’t have access to the most basic needs, Hixon said, including child care if they’re a parent. Once those needs are being met, staff then works to establish a work plan to help meet the ultimate goal of finding employment.
In the bill, Hicks wants any federal savings to be put into child-care programs for Medicaid recipients who are meeting the new requirements. The fiscal note doesn’t have a figure for what those savings, if any, might be.
The bill also doesn’t mandate the state help subsidize child care for those recipients if there is no federal savings made available to Wyoming.
During Monday’s committee meeting, Hicks said he looked into the issue because a woman working part time at a grocery store to help provide for her grandchildren pointed out a healthy-looking man who used SNAP benefits to buy groceries. If she had to work to support her family, she asked why he didn’t, as well.
During the meeting, a representative from the Wyoming Department of Family Services pointed out the man in Hicks’ anecdote would have to meet work requirements to receive those benefits.
Hicks and the 17 lawmakers co-sponsoring SF 144 see it as a way of encouraging people in poverty to move off government assistance. But Josh Hannes, vice president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said the bill would create more of a financial burden for local health-care providers.
“Wyoming hospitals already have about $130 million in uncompensated care,” Hannes said. “If someone has a health-care need and their benefits are pulled away, that need is still going to need to be taken care of. It might fall on the local hospital or nonprofit.”
Hannes said the bill only contains punishments to encourage someone to seek employment. Instead, it should also have incentives and funding to help achieve that ultimate goal.
“We think there should be an expansion of the state’s safety net services to meet the need that exists,” Hannes said. “Without the support to help move people forward, this is not a policy we can get behind.”