Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead sits at a desk at the state Capitol in Cheyenne on Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014. Mead said he expects to inform state lawmakers early next year of the best deal the federal government is willing to offer if Wyoming agrees to expand the federal Medicaid program to cover more low-income people. (AP Photo/Ben Neary)
CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Gov. Matt Mead says he expects to be ready to brief state lawmakers early next year about the best deal Wyoming could get from the federal government if the state agrees to expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of low-income workers.
Mead said Thursday that he and state Health Department Director Tom Forslund met recently with federal officials to discuss the possibility of Wyoming agreeing to Medicaid expansion. Mead says he wants to present information on the federal government's best offer to the Wyoming Legislature when it meets again staring in January.
The Wyoming Legislature repeatedly has rejected federal funding to extend Medicaid coverage to 17,600 low-income adults. Medicaid expansion is a key element of the federal Affordable Care Act, a major accomplishment of President Barack Obama.
Soon after Mead took office, he steered Wyoming into a multistate legal challenge that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court concluding the federal government had the authority to fine people who refused to get health-insurance coverage under the law.
Mead and many state lawmakers have expressed concern that the state can't trust the federal government to continue funding if the state allows more people onto the Medicaid rolls.
Although the Legislature voted again early this year to reject federal funds for Medicaid expansion, lawmakers directed Mead to explore a possible deal.
Expanding Medicaid would save the state money, according to a study by the Wyoming Health Department. The department has concluded that the state's Medicaid program likely will need an infusion of nearly $80 million in state general funds in coming years without any expansion. The agency concluded expansion promises to save the state roughly $50 million by reducing demand on other programs.
The Wyoming Hospital Association has supported expanding Medicaid, saying hospitals in the state cover more than $200 million a year in uncompensated care for people who don't have health insurance.
Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Cheyenne on Thursday, Mead said Wyoming has to live with the decision of the courts that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional.
Mead said he still has grave reservations about federal promises to pay to cover the costs of expanding Medicaid. However, he said, "I juxtapose that against our hospital association saying we're handing out $200 million every year just in Wyoming. I contrast it with whatever that running total is now, I think it's about $60 million for this year, that Wyoming, if we were in Medicaid, we would have received."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pete Gosar has been openly critical of Mead's approach to Medicaid. Gosar said Thursday that he believes Mead should publicly reveal more about the discussion between his administration and federal officials over possible Medicaid expansion.
"I'm happy to see the governor moving in the direction to granting access to 18,000 of our Wyoming workers to Medicaid, but I'd like to know the details," Gosar said. "I'm hopeful that the governor will come to his senses on this, it's been long overdue, and if you see the $70 million or so that's been wasted in Wyoming by not accepting Medicaid expansion since January first, there are a lot of questions that have to be answered by the governor's office."