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Advocates: Medicaid Expansion Would Benefit Cancer Patients

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Monday, March 29, 2021   

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- The Wyoming Senate has until Wednesday to advance the Medical Treatment Opportunity Act, which cleared the House last week.

The measure would expand Medicaid coverage, giving 24,000 low-income residents access to health insurance, including roughly 3,000 people diagnosed with cancer each year.

Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, board chair of the Association for Clinical Oncology and a Wyoming cattle rancher, said expanding Medicaid will help self-employed agricultural workers avoid medical bankruptcy and improve health outcomes.

"So many times, families who don't have health-insurance coverage avoid getting the care they need to take the preventive measures or the early-detection measures that can really save lives," Bertagnolli observed.

States that expanded Medicaid have seen improved rates for colorectal, prostate and cervical cancer screenings compared with non-expansion states, according to American Cancer Society studies.

Wyoming lawmakers have long resisted expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), worried the state would have to pay if the program implodes. House Bill 162 would allow the state to opt out of expansion if federal contributions drop below 90%.

State and local governments already are on the hook when patients without coverage can't pay.

According to the Wyoming Hospital Association, expanding Medicaid would reduce uncompensated care costs by more than $100 million per year.

R.J. Ours, Wyoming and Colorado government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said costs for treating cancer increase dramatically when people can't access primary and preventive care.

"The costs are far greater," Ours contended. "If a person has had to forego their screenings for a long period of time, and then their cancer is detected at a much later stage, the financial obligations are much more for the taxpayers."

Ours noted expanding Medicaid also will help close profound gaps in the nation's health safety nets exposed by the global pandemic, when workers lost jobs and their employer-linked health insurance.

Hospitals also could breathe a little easier. In states that expanded Medicaid, hospitals are 84% less likely to close their doors than in non-expansion states.


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