The push for Medicaid expansion in Wyoming trudged on Monday with a rally on the Capitol steps as state lawmakers gathered for the budget session.

Dozens of people wore yellow T-shirts over their regular clothing to show their support for adopting Medicaid expansion in the state. State leaders have discussed the program for more than a decade, but every attempt to implement it has failed in the Wyoming Legislature.

The Legislature is once again considering a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage to more Wyomingites. The Equality State is one of only 12 states that have not yet expanded the program, which dates to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

As it stands, Medicaid covers pregnant women and low-income kids in Wyoming. Expansion would open it up to adults who less than a certain income, thereby providing health care to roughly 18,000 to 25,000 Wyomingites, multiple parties have estimated. 

Advocates for the program say it would help the working poor and the state’s hospitals, which provide care to those who cannot pay for it. Some of those costs are passed along to those with insurance, meaning employers and people with coverage also feel the effect.

Critics of the program worry about its cost and sustainability.

While the debate is old, the state of Medicaid expansion in Wyoming looks a little different this time around.

Since the last legislative session, multiple surveys have been conducted that show that there is widespread support among Wyomingites for expanding Medicaid. Additionally, a new federal bonus would save the state $34 million over the next two years, a development that swayed some longtime opponents.

A Medicaid expansion bill made it through the House last session, and that’s the farthest it’s gotten. But it faces a tough road, especially as the Legislature moves farther to the right.

Jan Cartwright, executive director of the Wyoming Primary Care Association, said proponents of expanding the program are “eternally optimistic.”

From conversations with lawmakers, Cartwright said she expects some “friendly amendments” to the draft in committee, but nothing substantial.

While other states have expanded Medicaid via ballot initiatives, Wyoming must take a legislative approach. The crowd and speakers consisted of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

“No longer will a few people keep us from having Medicaid expansion in Wyoming,” Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, said to the crowd.

If the Medicaid expansion bill’s prospects are not good, backers may be able to expand it via the budget bill, Case said. They also tried to do that during the last budget session.

Opponents worry that the savings from the federal government won’t last after two years and have their concerns over “socialized medicine.”

Another concern is the idea that these funds could be used for elective abortions, but federal law and state law currently state one can’t use Medicaid for elective abortions.

But opponents retort by saying that this could change under the liberal, pro-choice Biden administration. 

Advocates say the state should move forward regardless.

“If we’re created in the likeness of God, then this is necessary,” said Rob Spaulding, a pro-life priest from Laramie. “I think it’s a basic human right. It’s along with every other life issue.” 

To remedy the abortion concern, the expansion draft may be amended to restate the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions.

“The fear of what might happen should not prevent what we do today,” Spaulding said. 

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Medicaid expansion rally draws a crowd to the Capitol steps – KPVI News 6