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Pressure Mounts to Expand Medicaid During Coronavirus Emergency


Thursday, July 2, 2020   

LARAMIE, Wyo. -- As more Wyoming workers lose their job-related health insurance because of downturns in the coal, oil and gas industries during the COVID-19 health emergency, state lawmakers are reconsidering the option of expanding Medicaid health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Jen Simon, senior policy advisor at the Equality State Policy Center, says this "perfect storm" has put newly unemployed residents in such states as Wyoming, that have not yet expanded coverage, at greater risk than neighboring states.

"Forty percent of the population in non-expansion states will become uninsured," Simon reports. "For states that have expanded the Medicaid health insurance program, far fewer people will lose health insurance coverage."

She points to a University of Wyoming poll showing that a majority of Wyomingites support expanding Medicaid to cover more residents, as far back as 2014.

Opponents of expansion have argued that Wyoming doesn't need help from the federal government to take care of its residents. They also warn that the state could be on the hook for additional costs if the Affordable Care Act implodes.

Simon counters that Wyoming would not be on the hook, because the state could reverse expansion if the federal contribution to Medicaid fell below 90%.

She adds that during the economic downturn, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table as the state faces budget shortfalls is fiscally irresponsible, and goes against the state's values of taking care of its own.

"To turn down hundreds of millions of dollars that Wyoming citizens have already paid in federal income tax, that would be returned to our state to help our friends and neighbors and provide health insurance coverage," she states.

Simon also describes loss of health coverage as devastating for individuals and families -- and for entire economies, especially in rural parts of the state where hospitals, which are economic engines and primary employers, face the prospects of bankruptcy.

Hospitals and other care facilities are expected to see a spike in uncompensated care as people without coverage can't pay their bills.

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