As the Wyoming Legislature prepares to convene in Cheyenne to finalize the state’s budget, the perennial effort to expand Medicaid will once again make its way to the desks of state representatives and senators. The failure to expand the program in the state represents a failure of conscience and a stubbornness detrimental to Wyoming residents.

For years, the Wyoming Department of Health has estimated the expansion of Medicaid would cover an estimated 24,000 residents and the net savings for the state’s general fund for the two-year budget would be $34 million.

Last year, the effort to expand Medicaid — which provides health coverage for low-income individuals — gained traction. But some legislators are concerned promised savings won’t last if Medicaid expansion is approved, and they think the federal government will leave the state on the hook for the health care of roughly 25,000 residents whose income is at or below 138% of the federal poverty level.

Others opposed to the expansion of the program have expressed skepticism of “socialized medicine” and the potential federal strings attached to the funding.

Few would claim expansion of the program comes without any risk or any challenges, but in the decade since Medicaid expansion debates began in the Wyoming Legislature, no other solutions for health care coverage and services have advanced. Operators of free clinics in Wyoming communities continue expressing concerns about funding and the challenges of adequately providing services for those without insurance — most of whom work, but in low-paying jobs that do not offer medical insurance. Providers have also touted Medicaid expansion as an avenue to addressing mental health care. In 2020, Wyoming again had the highest suicide rate in the country. 

The medical community — including the Wyoming Hospital Association and Wyoming Medical Society — have testified that Medicaid expansion would save hospitals money by lowering the number of people who receive care but cannot pay for services. 

Some of the legislators opposed to expansion of the program in Wyoming are the same elected officials claiming members of the federal government don’t listen to or represent their interests. 

A poll released in October by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, AARP, the American Heart Association and American Lung Association shows the majority of Wyoming voters — 66% — support efforts to increase access to health care by expanding Medicaid. Will those legislators listen to their constituents? 

Beyond the budgetary and economic benefits, Medicaid expansion is simply the right thing to do. Absent better ideas or alternative solutions, legislators must put aside stubborn, trite arguments and move forward with a measure that would alleviate stress on an over-taxed system and its customers.

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Editorial: Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid a failure of conscience – The Sheridan Press