CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A legislative committee that heard public testimony Wednesday in favor of a bill that would expand Medicaid in Wyoming didn't vote on the matter and the committee chairman said it likely wouldn't vote Thursday, either.
Sen. Charles Scott, a Casper Republican, said he wouldn't call the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee back into session Wednesday because the full Senate was working into the evening.
Scott also said he doubted he would call the committee into session to vote on the bill Thursday, the last day for bills to be reported out of committee.
Scott said the bill sponsor, Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, could still push Medicaid expansion through an amendment to the general government appropriations bill this week.
Rothfuss said he was disappointed by Scott's decision not to bring the bill to a vote. He said he has drafted a budget amendment for the expansion and intends to bring it up in the Senate on Friday. However, he said he expects that avenue reduces the measure's chances of success because it will receive less time for debate.
The Wyoming House of Representatives on Wednesday narrowly defeated a budget bill amendment that mirrored Rothfuss' bill. Scott said having the same issue coming forward as a budget amendment made him less willing to "drag the committee through that."
Rothfuss' bill calls for Wyoming to accept federal funding to add about 17,600 adults to the state's Medicaid system under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Several witnesses testifying in favor of the bill told lawmakers Wednesday that the program offers their sole hope of receiving adequate medical care.
Among several people testifying for the bill, Sylvia Fonfara, 18, of Laramie, told the committee she has been on the state's Children's Health Insurance Program her whole life. She said she will lose that coverage when she turns 19.
"Unless we find something, I'm not going to have any care, I'm not going to be able to see the doctor I've seen all of my life, or even get the medicines I need or the sleep apnea machine I use to sleep with," Fonfara said.
Medicaid expansion is a basic element of the federal Affordable Care Act. The Legislature last year rejected $50 million in federal funds to expand the program.
Gov. Matt Mead and many legislators said they distrust federal promises to continue to pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first few years. They have said they fear it would be difficult for the state to scale back the program if they let it grow and the federal government later pulls out.
U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, a veteran state lawmaker before he went to Washington, held his annual visit to the Legislature on Wednesday. He's trained as an accountant and serves on the Senate Finance Committee.
In an interview with The Associated Press after his address to lawmakers, Enzi said he has tremendous concerns with the federal government's promise to pay 100 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid for the first few years of the Affordable Care Act.
"I think they'll do it for a year. I'm a little worried after that," Enzi said. "I'm the accountant, and I know that when they say we're $17 trillion in the hole, they're fudging. Because the trust funds don't have any money in them. They just have bonds in them."
Two bills sponsored by the Joint Interim Labor, Health and Social Services Committee that would have expanded Medicaid failed their introductory votes in the Legislature. Rothfuss' bill is the last one remaining.
Rothfuss said a study commissioned by the Wyoming Department of Health projects the state would save about $40 million over the first two years of Medicaid expansion. The department projects the expansion would save money by reducing demand on other health programs.
Rothfuss said his bill called for a conventional Medicaid expansion for the first year, which he said would give the state time to negotiate a different approach with the federal government for the next three years. He said his bill also would require repeated legislative approval over the first few years.
Rothfuss said that if even if the federal government reneges on its support in four years, "we will have provided affordable health care for 17,600 people for four years, and we'll have $83 million in the bank, and figure out what to do next."