Health insurance is out of reach for many Wyomingites and possibly some state legislators.
Wyoming lawmakers are not offered a state health insurance option during the session, meaning many rely on individually funded insurance over that time or hope their employer will continue to insure them while they’re on a hiatus from work.
The Legislature’s Management Council, which oversees the legislature’s staff operations via the Legislative Service Office, heard two proposals to change that on Thursday. Both were sponsored by outgoing Speaker of the House, Rep. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette), who was recently elected to the Wyoming Senate.
Richard Garrett, a longtime lobbyist and member of Healthy Wyoming who said he wasn’t necessarily speaking on the coalition’s behalf, testified in support of a healthcare option for lawmakers.
“I know we can all think of examples where legislators have suffered health consequences, perhaps not directly because of their service, but coincidental with their service,” he said. “I believe that you deserve it, and I believe everybody in this state deserves healthcare and coverage.”
Healthy Wyoming advocates for Medicaid expansion across the state, and Garrett said it would be “a little bit disingenuous of me to say no healthcare for legislators but urge upon you healthcare for citizens at large, those that are falling into a gap.”
Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) noted that while some lawmakers have health insurance through retirement, self-employment or generous employers, others might face a gap in coverage for themselves and their family if they leave for a month or two to serve in the legislature.
“Who can choose to do that? Not many people,” she said. “I think we want 18-65 year olds who are working who need to continue their health insurance.”
Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) added that it’s easy for lawmakers to fall into a line of thinking that if this isn’t a problem for them, it wouldn’t be a problem for someone else.
“I think we have a very deeply self-selected group of legislators that can afford to be in the Legislature for one reason or another, and folks that have the wherewithal to provide themselves with, in one way or another, health insurance to be here,” he said. “I think if we were to pass this legislation, I feel like we would open the door to a lot of folks in Wyoming that previously couldn’t serve and wouldn’t serve and wouldn’t even run for office.”
Lawmakers disagreed, however, over which proposal to support.
Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) was in favor of lawmakers paying both the employer and employee portion of their own health insurance.
“I think if we’re going to do it, we should cover the premium,” he said, adding “I do think some kind of health coverage is good.”
Meanwhile, Connolly preferred the option where the Legislature paid the employer fees because, she said, “we are an employer.”
Others disliked both proposals, including Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper). While he didn’t provide specifics in the meeting, he said “I just think this is way too far and I’m going to be voting no.”
Ultimately the committee voted 5-3, with two excused, to support the proposal in which the LSO would pay the employer portion of the insurance premium.
The other proposal, which would have required lawmakers to foot the bill for both the employer and employee share of premiums, failed when no one motioned for a vote.
The first proposal will likely need some changes to square with recommendations from the Employees’ Group Insurance program, according to Barlow, but will be considered during the general session, which starts Jan. 10.