National publicity surrounding a well-known Wyoming family’s political infighting has resulted in an unexpected windfall for Laramie’s free clinic.
According to its director, the Downtown Clinic has received more than $20,000 in donations of cash and medical equipment since a prominent article ran in the Washington Post on Jan. 12. Donations have poured in from across the country and beyond, along with notes of support.
The lengthy piece by Greg Jaffe tracked the story of how the Gosar siblings, originally of Pinedale, came to be at odds with their eldest brother, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R, Ariz.), over his deeply conservative views.
At the heart of the story was the Downtown Clinic, which offers health care to low-income, uninsured residents of Albany County. The clinic, where two of the Gosar siblings work, was held up as an example of the kind of safety net crucial to individuals left behind by Paul Gosar’s policies.
Pete Gosar — a Wyoming Democrat who made an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2014 — directs the Downtown Clinic, where his sister Grace Gosar also serves as a physician. Pete Gosar said the donations signal deep support for what they do as well as widespread consensus that America’s health care system is broken.
“I think the lack of access to care is understood throughout the United States. I think it’s touched a lot of people, not having access to care, or not being able to afford it, or having to make the decision between food and prescription drugs,” he said. “I think the story reminded people of that — it touched a nerve.”
He and Grace say the response has been overwhelming.
“I’m just stunned, really,” Pete Gosar said. “Just amazingly stunned.”
And both hope the Wyoming Legislature — which has rejected Medicaid expansion for years — will take note.
“There have been so many affirmations of what I believe and what the clinic believes: that health care is a right,” Grace Gosar said. “It has made me feel fantastic, particularly because in Wyoming the Legislature doesn’t have that same spirit of generosity.”
A family feud
The Washington Post article unspooled a complicated story of family estrangement colored by deep political divisions as well as personal tragedy.
The 10 Gosar siblings — seven boys and three girls — grew up in Pinedale. Most settled in Wyoming, though Paul, the eldest brother, moved to Arizona to open a dental practice. He eventually became a politician, developing a deeply conservative set of ideologies. A member of the House Freedom Caucus, Paul Gosar maintains hard-line immigration beliefs, has made headlines for raising far-right conspiracy theories and is opposed to the Affordable Care Act.
Over time, the political divide grew into a chasm between him and his siblings. Most no longer speak to him. One runs a Twitter account expressly to rebuke him. Several went as far as appearing in a political ad for his opponent during the 2018 election cycle, an election Paul Gosar won.
The Washington Post article nested the work of the Downtown Clinic into the context of that sibling battle. Against that background, it spotlighted Grace Gosar’s personal fight with ovarian cancer, in which she has experienced first-hand the challenges of getting care. This includes wrestling with her insurance company over the costs of a medication, with the company claiming she owes it $200,000.
The article placed Grace Gosar’s life on a national platform for all to scrutinize. But she believes it served an important purpose.
“I thought it better described why there is some motivation for Pete and I and our brothers to try to counter our older brother,” she said, adding that it also offered an anecdote many can relate to. “The conundrums of health care touch everybody, with or without a funding source.”
Pete Gosar, meanwhile, doesn’t believe the sibling fight is what ultimately impelled so many readers to reach out.
“I thought and still think it’s about our broken health care system and the impacts of it more than it’s about a family with a disagreement,” he said of the article.
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When reached through his chief of staff for comment, Paul Gosar noted that he too provided free dental services to low-income patients, but does not crow about it.
“Everyone can choose their own path for public service,” he said in a statement. “My current public service is to my country, and I fight every day for the families of Americans who have lost loved ones due to illegal aliens committing crimes, suffer job losses or lower wages, or is one of the 70,000 who died last year due to illegal drugs largely coming through Mexico. This is my cause. My family has their cause, and I support everyone in their journey.”
Flood of support
The story came out online on a Saturday night. Grace Gosar read it, then watched the comments stream in.
Some told of personal challenges of health care. Some attacked the siblings for their treatment of Paul, others commended them. Most expressed support for Grace’s plight and the work of the clinic.
Next came a wave of support — donations, phone calls, emails and letters poured in. Along with cash, CPAP machines (for the clinic’s sleep apnea program), oxygen concentrators and medical software were donated.
For the clinic, which is run mostly on volunteer labor and funded through private fundraising and grants, every dollar is crucial.
“What it means is the ability to purchase equipment to improve our care,” Pete Gosar said.
He added that Grace’s insurance company has even retracted its claim.
Both say they weren’t prepared for the response.
“We never expected the kind of generosity that’s been shown to us,” Grace Gosar said, “but the awareness is also really fantastic too.”
Widening the impact
The siblings were quick to say they hope the response nudges Wyoming legislators to act on health care solutions.
Wyoming is one of 14 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the ACA, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, though advocates have been pushing for it for years.
On Jan. 31, a new Medicaid expansion bill died in Wyoming’s House of Representatives. According to Wyoming Department of Health data, House Bill 244 – Medicaid-work requirements and expansion would have resulted in as many at 30,000 state residents enrolling in health insurance over the course of a few years. The bill included language to allow a work or volunteer requirement for eligibility.
Meanwhile, the state Senate pushed to spend more than $250,000 to continue studying the issue.
Rep. Andy Schwartz, a Jackson Democrat who sponsored the House bill, said he plans to bring it back.
“In my mind, we’ve already done the studies and it’s pretty clear that expansion is really the only clear thing we can do to address these issues,” he said.
Schwartz said with every year that passes without expansion, Wyoming misses out on some $180 million in federal funding. But Sen. Charles Scott, a Casper Republican, said expansion could end up costing Wyoming if the federal government runs into budget problems.
“It’s hard to justify and the financial risk is significant for the state,” Scott said. The wiser move, he argues, is to find sound numbers through a study.
Pete and Grace Gosar are tired of studies.
“We believe there are solutions but there has to be a will for those solutions, not just another study,” Grace Gosar said. “I feel like our legislators aren’t willing to find innovative and creative health care solutions. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Where there’s generosity, people can receive care.”
Pete Gosar says expansion would get more residents the coverage they need, reduce costs of uncompensated care and result in a healthier population for the state.
“In 10 years, if we continue to turn down Medicaid expansion, we will have
turned down more than a billion dollars for health care for our people,” he said. “Another study doesn’t help one person get health care in this next year. And the cost of that one study would fund the Downtown Clinic for an entire year.”
The legislature responds much more robustly to out of state lobbyists with faulty information than to the people of Wyoming. That is what happened to Medicaid Expansion. Although there was widespread support and fiscal impact analysis by the Department of Health, the legislature chose to believe biased and inaccurate information that originated with a Koch brother funded organization in Florida. A lobbyist from Utah was suddenly given full access to legislators that the general public does not enjoy, And in the end Medicaid expansion was defeated. It is beyond belief that they would leave Wyoming hospitals at risk and Wyoming citizens without care, but that is what they did. So it was no surprise that the bill failed again this year. Like Charlie Scott says, it might cost the state some money at some point, and the one thing this legislature is not about to do is to find a way to raise taxes to cover revenue losses from the coal industry, no matter how many suffer. There is simply no way to justify this callousness to the needs of Wyoming people, or the loss of so much money that could have come into the Wyoming economy. Every legislator who has voted against Medicaid expansion should resign for failing to do their jobs.