Jan 20, 2015

Governor: It’s time to expand Medicaid

CHEYENNE — Wyoming 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.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is photographed as he addresses members of the Wyoming Press Association on Jan. 16 in Cheyenne. Photo by Tom Lawrence

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.

“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 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.

Not the time to hoard state dollars

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.

Governor till opposes legalizing marijuana in Wyoming.

“I’m not trying to be pig-headed on this,” Mead 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 that’s 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.

“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,” 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.

No free ride for community college

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.

Mead won't run for re-election in 2018

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.

 ~By CJ Baker

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