(Opinion) – Do you believe that the people who would be on expanded Medicaid right now if it hadn’t been rejected by the Wyoming Legislature are lazy bums who would rather get welfare than work for a living?

Or that the 31 states that expanded their Medicaid programs all regret it because it either bankrupted them or forced their lawmakers to raise taxes and cut education? And that expansion has on balance led to the poor receiving worse health care than they had before?

Congratulations! You have been duped by the biggest misinformation campaign the Equality State has ever seen. It’s too late to change one of the most damaging decisions our state lawmakers have ever made, but you can still know the truth.

Here’s what Wyoming will lose because the Senate, for the fourth year in a row, sold out their constituents to make an empty anti-Obama political gesture and voted 20-10 to kill Medicaid expansion last Friday:

— Health insurance coverage for 20,000 low-income Wyoming residents.

— $33.5 million in savings from other social service programs.

— $268 million that Wyoming could have used to offset the more than $447 million budget deficit for the next two years.

The Legislature also lost something intangible, literally priceless, on Friday: its integrity.

Voters send people to Cheyenne to do their best for the state, not forsake the poor and unfortunate. But that’s exactly what 20 of them did, and if the House had bothered to even vote on the issue, there’s no doubt at least 40 more would have done the same thing.

Perhaps you heard Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper), the Legislature’s leading opponent of Medicaid expansion, use the podium on the Senate floor to once again spew stacks of misinformation. This year he outdid himself, calling the program “a welfare bureaucracy of the health department” and comparing it to bondage.

His plea to kill expansion included some of his most ludicrous claims yet. While Scott has long
expressed fear that Medicaid recipients could “over-utilize” health care services to get unnecessary tests and procedures performed, his charges sunk to a new low Friday.

Scott derisively called the 20,000 people who would be helped “a small number.” The senator actually said if people knew they could get Medicaid, they would retire early so they could live off the government. Long-time observers of the senator might ask “retire from what?” since Scott always describes the people who would finally be able to get health insurance through Medicaid expansion as “able-bodied” men and women who refuse to work.

Here’s the truth. About 60 percent of those eligible for the expanded program do work, usually at minimum-wage jobs that don’t offer health benefits. Some work at two or more of these jobs trying to cobble together enough money to survive.

Many of the remaining 40 percent are sick and can’t work because — guess what? — they don’t have adequate health care because they are too poor to afford it.

The 20,000 Wyomingites who would receive Medicaid if the state would approve it make less than $15,800 a year. I’d like to see Scott and the 19 other senators who voted against expansion try to live on that amount and take care of their families, even if their health insurance was fully paid by the government.

Retire because they can finally get health insurance? Retirement is just a dream for those stuck on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Even if they were able to obtain adequate health care, the bills for food, housing, transportation and other essentials remain. Wyoming’s least fortunate inhabit a never-ending cycle of debt and despair.

Scott incorrectly claims that about half of those eligible for Medicaid expansion already buy health insurance, and those who don’t can easily get subsidies from the federal government to purchase policies on the health marketplace. Rep. Don Burkhart (R-Rawlins), one of Scott’s disciples, told me the latter don’t have to pay any money at all for health insurance, so why are we worried about them?

Here’s why. About two-thirds of the 20,000 fall into the “Medicaid gap.” They would be eligible to enroll in Medicaid if expansion was approved, but that assistance obviously isn’t available. They do not qualify for premium tax credits under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) because they don’t earn enough. This population, as Mike Fierberg, media relations director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Denver, told me, is simply out of luck until their state decides to rescue them.

They’re not alone. Nationally nearly 3 million people in the 19 states that refused federal money to expand Medicaid fall into the gap. Their states are sacrificing them to protest the ACA. That means a lot of Charlie Scotts out there have been successful in their legislative rants against Medicaid expansion.

But they can’t do it alone; they are helped by far-right organizations like the Wyoming Liberty Group, the Foundation for Government Accountability and other opponents. The latter is a front for the infamous American Legislative Exchange Council, which has its state lawmaking minions do its Tea Party bidding in state capitols around the country. ALEC, in turn, is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, who have made it their mission to take every social service program in America and crush it into dust.

The FGA recently ran a radio smear campaign against Medicaid expansion throughout Wyoming. Many of its claims, such as Wyoming would be forced to raise taxes or cut education, roads and public safety, were expertly debunked in an article by Casper Star-Tribune reporter Laura Hancock.

The Wyoming Liberty Group published an article on its website by Charles Katebi, “Saying No to Medicaid Expansion Saves Hospitals and Lives.” If you fired a pistol every time you read a piece of misinformation, you’d be deaf before finishing.

Katebi claimed expansion added so many people to Medicaid rolls it has forced states to cut payments to hospitals, “blowing huge holes in state budgets that legislators had to fill, and leaving many patients waiting for care.”

Katebi said the influx of Medicaid patients has cut off access to doctors. “Medicaid patients often develop conditions that go undetected and untreated until it’s too late,” he said. “After surveying cancer patients, doctors at the University of South Florida found that Medicaid patients were 31 percent more likely to have late-stage breast cancer and 81 percent more likely to have late-stage melanoma than patients without any insurance at all.”

His argument is that patients who have no health care at all are less at risk than those who see a doctor. In reality, the lack of access to health care caused by states that have refused expansion has made it nearly impossible for most of the working poor to get the preventative health care needed to diagnose disease in a timely fashion.

Healthy Wyoming is a broad coalition of state businesses, labor unions, medical associations, hospitals, church groups and social service workers. It cites an Oregon study that notes people with Medicaid are 40 percent less likely to have suffered a decline in health in the previous six months, compared with similar people without health coverage.

After two years of opposing expansion, Republican Gov. Matt Mead recognized the state can’t afford to leave 20,000 people at risk while throwing away more than $310,000 a day in federal dollars. In a statesman-like move he put Medicaid expansion in the Health Department’s budget, but GOP legislative leaders slashed it.

Republicans cut the Family Literacy program and the Tax Rebate for the Elderly and Disabled. They reduced school funding, including money for early education programs. The GOP couldn’t expand Medicaid and help the poor, but they did find one program worth saving.

It was the $8 million match earmarked for the University of Wyoming’s “athletic competitiveness” program. Our poor don’t have health care and our children can’t read, but thank God we can all take pride in our football team. Those sick, retired lowlifes who live off the government won’t be able to afford a ticket to see them play, of course, but as two-thirds of our illustrious Senate made unmistakably clear, who really cares?

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Welcome to my world. I fall into the “Medicaid Gap” of about 20,000 people. I cannot get insurance because I am currently applying for disability. Funny, you are not supposed to work while you are applying. Once I can get approved (hopefully) I will get an income and be able to pay for insurance. But in the meantime, I am up the creek without a paddle. So, not we are all not lying about our circumstances. We are not all feeling entitled to free health care. Or getting ready to retire on free insurance. Some of us truly need Medicaid.

  2. Thanks for posting the truth. Now we need to all get out and vote these folks out. I’m from Sheridan county and both of our senators voted against ACA. I even heard our old mayor on the radio trying to convince the people of the lies.

    Wayne Roadifer

  3. I support Gov. Mead’s plan for Medicaid expansion.
    I think little is to be gained as in this column – by calling people liars and using that kind of vocabulary. I mean, nothin’ but dumb. Dumb. Do something useful, like call someone who might listen to you. And – they won’t – if you use these confrontational – (Dumb) – tactics.
    I mean – WHO are you going to win over, when you have reviled people, ridiculed them and called them liars? Kerry Drake’s column consistently pushes the theme that sensationalism and sarcasm rules, not fact or intelligence. Try reason. Try common sense. Try persuasion. Try fact.

    Mary Flitner

  4. Question: is the Charles Katebi cited by the Wyoming Liberty Group in its missives the same as the Charles Katebi who is a paid professional propagandist for the far right-libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute that is HQ’d on “L” Street in Washington D.C. , one block over from Lobbyist Central ? I believe so.

    None of the 20 Wyoming Republican Senators who voted against their own people, against their own party’s sitting Governor, against the strong advice of former Governors and US Senators , without actually cross-checking with the 31 other states that have adopted Medicaid Expansion , can say they have the facts on their side. Their votedown was done out of spite, or worse.

    To them I would also ask: can you broaden your mind enough to comprehend what Wyoming would look like if all its federal support , federal funding, and federal payroll went away and left the State of Wyoming holding the sack? If you think this state is hurting now from the drawdown in fossil hydrocarbon markets, try to imagine Wyoming where the other 49 states are not propping up our way of life and fattening our wallets. Your education department would need to retool to teach flintknapping and aboriginal arts. Any claims of ” federal overreach” and ” socialized medicine” by Republicans are only so much Red Herring rotting on the banks of Crow Creek in Cheyenne and pretty much every other drainage in Wyoming.

    We the People of Wyoming have been Disserved.

  5. Right On Mr. Drake.
    Why would we NOT want our tax dollars back in WY to help those who need help. Amazing that those very working poor are cleaning legislators homes, fixing their cars, serving their meals when they eating out and doing their laundry and cleaning their hotel rooms in Cheyenne and a serving them their drinks after a hard day of dumping on the poor of this state.

    I recommend you look again when you vote and ask questions and don’t vote party vote issues.

    Maybe we should call the WY legislators Charlies laws because he can feed people any amount of misinformation and they fall for it. It is time for our longest serving legislator to retire. Casper are you listening. Lorraine, Laramie, WY

  6. This is just the long version of the cry baby liberal spend other people’s money left wing socialists wanting “free” stuff.
    Our federal government is nearly 20 trillion dollars in debt. Wyoming is not. Again;
    Wyoming is not.
    All the long winded free money talk does not change that.

    1. Mr. Olson who in your opinion put our federal government in debt for 20 trillion dollars, it did not happen over night. Wyoming is not in debt, really, could you explain what is free money. Wyoming Department of transportation is funded by Free money, Senior Service is the Older Americans Act, again Free money, Wyoming Business Council funded by Free money, Wyoming Education, again Free money. Do you know the difference in a State budget and Federal budget each is different, yet they both thrive on Free Money.
      Sir: there is no free money in this country, everyone commenting on this article contributes to free money, in that field called taxes.
      Maybe we should cancel that free money for that capital construction at the free money cost of $300,000,000. over three years.
      Even those poor people pay some form of taxes, from gas, household taxes and list goes on and who’s to blame the democratic republic of which we all belong.
      One other note do you know how much money the free stuff it takes to run this State. Do the home work, tap the funding reserves will only last three years, catch the drift then Wyoming’s saving account is busted, and a shortfall means debt…

      Ken Casner

  7. I agree and appreciate the information. Hard working Wyoming families, our neighbors, are suffering from these decisions. The ACA has helped hundreds of thousands of people get on health insurance, and Medicaid expansion would help thousands more. I am disgusted by the money and misinformation the Wyoming Liberty Group has poured into Wyoming politics and some of our representatives eagerness to lap it up.

  8. Well said and taken to heart, We need to find people who will run for office and move these old relics out. They make a rock and a hard place even harder.

  9. I don’t claim to be the most informed person out there but I can say this, the affordable care act us a joke, anyone with any brains at all know it absolute stupidity to penalize people who are already to broke to get insurance for not being able afford it. I can tell you that even if you qualify for a subsidy on your premiums it is still to high for anyone who is already barely getting by and therefore solves nothing. Then of course there is the ridiculously inept and poorly ran Medicaid system where people are able to qualify by lying about their living circumstances and there is no investigation and where individuals are encouraged to go the ER instead of a doctor’s office by the rules and regulations set up in Medicaid for certain types of services, thereby costing the taxpayers even more dollars than are truly necessary. In my opinion both of these systems need to be overhauled from the ground to better meet the needs of those in Wyoming who so desperately need real help.

    1. If it solves nothing, why are hundreds of thousands of Americans that were not insured before now insured? The Medicaid expansion would cover twenty thousand of those in Wyoming that can’t afford insurance, the people barely getting by that you are describing. Are you on Medicaid? Do you know anyone on it lying about their circumstance to get on it? How does it encourage people to go the ER, I think that’s the non-insured. Before you call people stupid, why don’t you become informed?

      1. Nesta: Tell me, where do you get your information from? You need to re-think who you believe, because you are not being given truthful information. My husband is on Medicaid, and I can tell you, lying about living circumstances is not an option. There is an extensive vetting process involved, and while I don;t know if this is true for everyone, in our case it also involved home visits as well as a complete, verified accounting of our income. Here is what is REALLY going on. Before the ACA, we could not get medical insurance for my husband because he had a pre-existing condition, diabetes. This led to other complications in time, including multiple strokes, which led to dementia. By the time the ACA came into effect, it was too late for him. He is 100% disabled. NOW, now that he is disabled, he is eligible for Medicaid, thank God because even with my insurance we would not be abe to afford the equipment and medications he needs. In fact, even with Medicaid and Medicare, there is still a considerable outlay on my part for what they DON’T cover. Is this “free stuff”? No. I pay taxes, as I have for the past 40+ years. I understand that I am paying for his needs through my taxes in addition to the money I pay out of pocket for his diapers, etc. Just imagine if we had been abe to get him on a program earlier. Maybe he would still be out there working, paying taxes, and living a normal life. The money Medicaid and Medicare would be putting out for his health care would have been hugely less than what they are paying now that he is so severely disabled and needs so much special equipment, more medications than he would not have needed otherwise, etc.
        People only resort to the emergency room for basic medical care when they have no other options, my dear. Most doctor’s offices require payment at time of service, which fewer and fewer peole can afford with stagnant wages not even covering basic day to day living expenses. So their only option is the emergency room, often for things that could have been treated just as well, and at far less cost, in a doctor’s office.
        The truth is, it costs far less to keep people healthy than to treat them when they are ill. What our legislature has done is ensure Wyoming will have to pay far more to cover more and more people who will become like my husband than otherwise would have been necessary. Also, the truth is, people who DON’T work generaly already qualify for our Medicaid program (as long as your income under $500 a month you are eligible the income threshold is much higer if you are disabled.) while the people who WOULD be eligible under the expansion are those who DO work and pay taxes, but either don;t have access to medical insurance through work, or make so little they can;t afford it. There is a reasdon virtually every health care professional I have talked to (and I talk to many in the course of my husband’s decline) are outraged at what our legislature has done. The part about it would cost our hospitals more lost revenue is pure bunk. More people covered means LESS loss. What they have done instead is insure that hospitals such as WMC will have to write more and more bills off to Charity Care where treatment would be covered under the medicaid expansion. I guarantee you, Medicaid and Medicare have put out hundreds of thousands of dollars on my husband’s care that would not have been necessary had he been able to afford proper care back when the problems started. Some of his meds cost hundreds of dollars per month that we could not afford without medicaid. I know, I tried. The choice was between rent and food and paying our bills, or his meds. I wish to God we could have afforded his meds back then, maybe I would not be trying to take care of a 65 year old, 160 pound toddler. Maybe for his birthday I would have been buying him new fishing equipmet instead of Play-Dough and Leggos. Maybe he would still be able to work, and I wouldn;t be struggling to pay our bills and meet his needs on an inadequate Social Security check and a Wal-Mart paycheck. Believe me, his care costs the taxpayers far more now than it would have cost to keep him from getting in ths condition.

  10. Excellent column by Kerry Drake. I couldn’t agree more and certainly couldn’t say it any better. Those of us who are not low income adults, and are “well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed” must take up the cause of Medicaid expansion and bug the heck out of our local legislators. That is our job and will be one of only a few things which might get our legislature to change its mind.

    Eric Wedell, MD

  11. Kerry is right, of course. The shame is that the rants of opponents — based on lies and distortions — continue to win the day, against facts and reason and the good of Wyoming. Maybe when the current administration leaves the White House, our lawmakers will put politics aside and restore reason and self-interest to this decision.

    Marguerite Herman

  12. “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.”
    Herman Melville, novelist and poet (1819-1891)

  13. Mr. Drake, I agree with your opinion. Needless to say I live in Carbon County where Senator Hicks and Rep. Burkhart represent this county. I heard a news report, where our Senator Hicks said it is time for Wyoming to Live within its means. In 4 years this body of conservatives has not produced one plan that really applies to the overall general welfare of Wyoming.
    Rep. Harshman’s comments on capitol construction shows the reasoning of political brain concussions. Helping Wyoming Construction companies get jobs for the future. I willing to bet the lowest bids will come from outside state construction companies, or these companies will sub-lease Wyoming small construction companies.
    Therefore as Senator Hicks stated why don’t we just try living within our means. Cut the federal programs, drop communities back in time where communities were responsible for their roads, hospitals, schools, and maintaining their infrastructures. In other words Senator Hicks you’re body loses state income. Currently we collect sales taxes for sales Tax revenues by running our business. The Department of Revenue splits that tax at 39% for communities and 61% for the State’s general fund. Why not Senator Hicks, Rep Burkhart and Rep. Harshman, flip flop these taxes around, so you live within your means! Maybe Senator Hicks would lose his present job on Conservation District a state job. According to history the greatest leaders are those leaders who help people help themselves. Our legislative body will have a shining building the icon of not living within their means, but idols of self serving, not selfless serving and honoring all people of Wyoming.