Lawmakers unlikely to consider Medicaid expansion in any special session

CHEYENNE – As Wyoming lawmakers prepare for the likelihood of more special sessions in coming months, Medicaid expansion likely won’t be a topic up for immediate consideration in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposal to expand Medicaid to uninsured people whose income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty level is not a new one in the Wyoming Legislature. In February, lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected an introductory proposal authorizing Gov. Mark Gordon to explore expansion.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the Legislature’s Management Council reassigned the topic to the Joint Revenue Interim Committee for consideration. During their virtual meeting Wednesday, lawmakers on the committee again discussed the proposal, which is estimated to cover roughly 19,000 Wyomingites within two years of implementation.

If approved, Wyoming would cover 10% of the costs associated with expansion, a total of about $18 million in general funds during the first biennium of implementation. The federal government would pick up the remaining expense under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

For some on the committee, the COVID-19 pandemic – and the $1.5 billion revenue hit projected for the state over the next couple years – made the idea of expanding Medicaid even less palatable.

“It’s a waste of our time, honestly,” Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Ranchester, said of expansion. “We still have to pick up 10% of the tab. Ten percent of the big number is a big number, and we can’t afford it right now.”

Others were similarly reluctant. While the state Legislature is likely to meet in late June – and potentially again later in the year – for another special session in response to the state’s COVID-19 and revenue emergencies, lawmakers on the committee suggested the proposal only be advanced for the 2021 general session.

“I think right now the consensus is that we’re not trying to get this into a special session,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, who co-chairs the committee, after some discussion. “If we get different direction from Management Council, we’ll take it and evaluate it, but we’re looking at something to get us into the next general session, if it should be successful in the committee.”

Despite some lawmakers’ hopes to the contrary, the state’s $1.25 billion share of federal relief money likely cannot be used to expand Medicaid. Franz Fuchs, a policy analyst with the Wyoming Department of Health, told the committee that “we’re 99.9% sure the answer is no” from the feds on that front.

Fuchs didn’t have precise data on how many additional people might apply for an expansion program following the mass unemployment caused by COVID-19, but added that enrollment would probably be on the higher side of recent projections.

Lawmakers on the Revenue Committee took no action on the proposal, instead deciding to pick it back up at their August meeting. Since the committee advanced a Medicaid expansion bill last November that was then soundly defeated in the House of Representatives, the debate didn’t demand much rehashing during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I don’t believe anybody on the committee has magically changed their minds on which way they feel about this topic, so I’m fine moving forward to the next meeting with some more information from Management Council on exactly what they want from us,” committee co-chair Rep. Dan Zwoniter, R-Cheyenne, said.