Dems accuse Mead of softening on Medicaid expansion; Mead denies

2014-07-23T07:41:00Z Dems accuse Mead of softening on Medicaid expansion; Mead deniesBy LAURA HANCOCK Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
July 23, 2014 7:41 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pete Gosar accused Gov. Matt Mead of changing his stance on Medicaid expansion from opposing it to warming up to it.

Mead’s team, however, said he has maintained his opposition to the cornerstone of the federal Affordable Care Act that expands coverage to low-income adults but is following a state law that requires Wyoming to negotiate a waiver to Medicaid expansion.

“We may not like it, and in fact we don’t,” Mead, a Republican seeking re-election, said in a recent Wyoming Public Media story. “But we also recognize that as we do this, we have uncompensated care for hospitals of about $200 million a year. That the federal money that we are rejecting now is going to California or Colorado or some other state and so let’s make a pitch and let’s see if HHS or CMS accept it or not.”

Shortly after the story, Gosar’s campaign sent a statement saying Mead’s openness toward negotiating a waiver with the federal government comes four years too late.

“Mead is in trouble, and he knows it,” Gosar said in the statement. “It’s disappointing to see this kind of cynicism on issues like Medicaid expansion and the Next Generation Science Standards. The people of Wyoming are getting wise to the timing when their governor decides to do the right thing once every four years. Right is right all the time, and people see that.”

Medicaid expansion is a part of the federal Affordable Care Act. If the state accepted full federal funding, Medicaid would expand to cover an estimated 18,000 low-income adults. An amendment in the budget passed by the Wyoming Legislature in March said the state may negotiate a waiver for a Medicaid expansion program.

Mead’s spokesman, Renny MacKay, said Mead has maintained the same position on the ACA: He opposes it.

“He also has maintained the same position related to Medicaid expansion,” McKay said in an email. “He does not support it.”

Robin Van Ausdall, executive director of the Wyoming Democratic Party, said last summer, Mead spoke in favor of Medicaid Fit, a program that would offer recipients limited benefits of Medicaid. Then after Thanksgiving 2013, he said he was opposed to any expansion, Van Ausdall said.

“Then there was absolutely a stubborn unwillingness, starting in November immediately after Thanksgiving, that frankly seemed political, that seemed much more like a concern about moving into an election season where he had some opposition from the far right, than anything else,” Van Ausdall said. “Certainly, it didn’t from a policy perspective make any sense, and hadn’t tracked really with the things we had heard him say. From our point of view, it’s really a bait and switch.”

MacKay, Mead’s spokesman, offered a different explanation of the governor’s views.

“When the Department of Health reported on different options for Medicaid expansion, he said he didn’t support expanding Medicaid, but of the options presented in that report, Medicaid Fit was his preference,” he said.

Mead is following the law as described in the budget amendment that the Wyoming Department of Health have discussions with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, MacKay said.

“Given the legislation that passed this year, we have been working with our Department of Health on what a plan might look like,” he said. “There is a lot of work to do before we have a proposal for our office and the Legislature to consider.”

Among the discussions the Wyoming Department of Health has had with the feds, “the governor has only been involved in one meeting,” MacKay said.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, battled to get the Wyoming Legislature to approve Medicaid expansion.

He said he doesn’t really know if Mead has changed his tune. His main objective is to expand Medicaid to low-income Wyoming adults.

“I’ve had good discussions in the past with the governor on Medicaid expansion,” he said. “I know that he’s got (Wyoming Department of Health) Director (Tom) Forslund and his staff working on negotiating a wavier that’s in the best interest of Wyoming, pursuant to the budget amendment that we passed last session.

“At this point, I’m just waiting to see how that turns out and hoping we can bring something to the Legislature that will pass.”

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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