Medicaid expansion dies in committee without a vote (probably)

By Ron Feemster
— February 19, 2014

Ron Feemster, WyoFile reporter
Ron Feemster, WyoFile reporter

In two different meetings, the Senate Labor Health Committee heard two and a half hours of testimony on the last remaining Medicaid expansion bill today. But Sen. Charles Scott, chairman of the committee, never called for a vote.

And now it looks like he won’t. Unless he changes his mind.

Medicaid expansion would cover at federal government expense some 17,600 people who are not eligible to buy subsidized insurance on the health insurance exchange, but who also do not qualify for Medicaid under current rules. The bill would move from the committee to the floor with at least three votes. But three of five committee members had already voted against the bill when it was introduced.

If, however, no vote were held, the bill would die in committee.

At three different times on Wednesday afternoon, Scott emerged from the Senate chambers to tell interested parties if and when Labor Health would take a vote. Twice he appeared to change his mind.

He first told WyoFile there was chance the committee might not vote on Senate File 118. At the time, he said the vote would probably happen at 8 a.m. Thursday.

“We might not have a meeting,” Scott said. “They voted the same thing down over in the House.”

In the House, when Senate File 118 was still in committee, the Rothfuss bill was proposed as a budget amendment. The House voted it down 27-29 in a standing vote, according to Dan Perdue, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, who was in the House at the time.

“We came very close,” said Rep. Mary Throne (D-Cheyenne). “Last year we had nine votes. The eight Democrats and one Republican. I was hoping we would get to 31 votes. We were only four short.”

Later in the afternoon, Scott emerged again to tell members of the Wyoming Coalition for Medicaid Expansion that the vote was off. He was not going to convene the committee to vote on the bill.  The coalition promptly issued a press release condemning the committee chairman for using Senate procedure to achieve his private goal of killing the bill.

“We have a chance to shore up the state’s health care system, including our community hospitals, by insuring thousands of people using federal dollars. It’s unfortunate that the committee turned its back on that opportunity this morning,” said Perdue in the release.

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper)
Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper)

After the release had been sent out to journalists across the state, Scott emerged again to tell Ben Neary of the Associated Press that he was not planning to convene the committee on Wednesday night, but left the door open a crack for a vote on Thursday, the last day that bills can be reported out of committee.

“I don’t want to drag the committee through that,” he said, referring to a final meeting of a committee that was stacked against the bill 3-2 from the beginning. But in an interview that WyoFile participated in, he stopped short of saying the vote was definitely off.

Marguerite Herman, a member of the coalition, was incensed: “We took him at his word and we wrote the release,” Herman said. “Then he comes out again and says something else?”

The bill appears to be dead. But Medicaid expansion proposals are likely to resurface as budget amendments in both the House and the Senate on Friday.

“We’ll get another chance Friday,” Rothfuss said. “I’m glad that we will have an opportunity to debate and vote on the bill.”

Throne has said all along that she would not give up until she has exhausted all possibilities. She intends to amend the bill in a way that might help win the last four votes she needs for passage.

“It’s not quite a Hail Mary,” Throne said Wednesday near the end of the session. “We’ll have all day to talk to people tomorrow. It’s not over.”

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