Medicaid work requirements bill, aimed at Wyoming’s “poorest of the poor,” dies in House committee

Tom Forslund, director of the Wyoming Department of Health and the Department of Family Services, watched a bill die Monday night that he said was aimed at “the poorest of the poor.”

Three-fourths of the targets of Senate File 97, “Medicaid and SNAP eligibility requirements,” were women with children who make $873 a month or less.

The bill was wildly popular in the Senate, where it passed 25 – 5. It took a tie 4 – 4 vote in the House Labor, Health, and Social Services Committee to kill it for the budget session.

A so-called anti-poverty program

The bill would have required Medicaid recipients to work, go to school or volunteer a total of 20 hours a week to obtain health care through the so-called anti-poverty measure.

MacGuire thinks the single moms who are light years away from making a livable wage should be perfectly happy to “get out and volunteer to pick up trash with the Rotary Club.”

Roughly 3,300 people in Wyoming would have been under threat of being kicked off Medicaid for an entire year if they didn’t comply.

Because, you know, being kicked off Medicaid and becoming unable to obtain healthcare is going to help folks get out of poverty.

About 60,000 people in Wyoming are on Medicaid, including children under 6, pregnant women, seniors, and disabled people. These groups would be have been exempted from the work requirements.

The Legislature has rejected Medicaid expansion five times, throwing away $500 million in federal funds (so far) and refusing to help more than 17,000 working poor adults get health insurance.

Unknown cost

There were some heroes at the meeting, including House Labor and Health Committee Chairman Rep. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette), who cast the deciding vote to kill this monstrosity. But there were also villains who think it’s perfectly reasonable to tell single moms who makes less than 54 percent of the federal poverty rate that they can’t have health insurance unless they’re working more than 20 hours a week.

Work requirements would prompt the state to spend an unknown amount of money to check compliance—the bill did not include a “fiscal note” that informs lawmakers and the public how much the law would cost.

Forslund said additional staff may need to be hired and field offices throughout the state would likely have to add it to their responsibilities. It would require expensive system updates, the director explained, adding, “It’s not going to be cheap.”

“Get out and pick up trash”

Rep. Joe MacGuire (R-Casper) said he thinks the work requirement would be worth it “even if it only helps one person.” He imagined a scenario where someone on Medicaid who’s forced to work could “meet the right person and learn of a job opportunity.”

According to MacGuire, it’s worth scaring the living crap out of Medicaid recipients who are afraid their health care may be taken away, and establishing a new, expensive bureaucracy if there’s just one person that could be helped. The requirements, he said, are “not going to be onerous.”

MacGuire thinks the single moms who are light years away from making a livable wage should be perfectly happy to “get out and volunteer to pick up trash with the Rotary Club.”

Maybe the moms’ kids could pick up trash too, so they wouldn’t have to go to that babysitter that she can’t afford to hire.

Rep. Tim Hallinan (R-Gillette) liked MacGuire’s comments. He agreed that it would be better for people on Medicaid to “associate with people instead of just sitting at home.”

None of the four legislators who voted in favor of SF-97—Reps. MacGuire, Hallinan, Marti Halverson (R-Etna) and Rep. Lars Lone (R-Cheyenne)—seemed capable of imagining that some of the 3,300 people affected by the bill may already be actively seeking a job, going to school or volunteering to improve their lives.

No assistance

Forslund, the DOH director, was asked whether the state has any programs that could help the people getting kicked off Medicaid either obtain work, be helped with transportation, child care or tuition, or have a case manager.

No, he replied, they would be on their own to navigate the social services system to find help. The Department of Health has experienced hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts over the past two years.

Voting against SF-97 were Barlow and Reps. Mike Gierau (D-Jackson), JoAnn Dayton (D-Rock Springs) and Pat Sweeney (R-Casper). Rep. Scott Clem (R-Gillette) was excused and did not leave a proxy vote, or this bill would probably have been headed to the House floor for debate.

“It’s not a destination, but a journey.”

Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) didn’t have to do any work to sponsor the bill, which is being handed out in numerous states as “model legislation” by the extreme-right American Legislative Exchange Council. But he did take the brief time to explain the measure to the committee.

“It’s a policy issue,” Hicks said. “Are we going to give up on single moms? … This is the first step in the right direction.” Obtaining social services, he added, “is not a destination, but a journey.”

What an inspirational quote.

The bill’s death is cause to celebrate, at least for now. But the House voted 34 – 24 for a mirror work requirement bill earlier in the session. That fell six votes short of the two-thirds majority it needed for introduction during the budget session. But the votes indicate both chambers would have approved it in a general session, like the one that will be held next year.

Remember, however: Elections are coming up.