Wyoming Senate advances hospital-funding bill

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill to appropriate $5 million to help hospitals cover the cost of charity care for uninsured people.

Monday's vote on the hospital-funding bill follows Senate action on Friday to reject about $120 million a year in federal Medicaid expansion funds that would have offered health insurance coverage to an estimated 17,600 low-income state residents. Many senators who voted against expansion said they didn't trust federal promises of future funding.

Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, is sponsoring the hospital funding bill.

"Realizing that it is one-time, it allows us to go back to our constituents and hospitals and say, 'We recognize there are uncompensated care budget concerns. This is the best we can do,' " Peterson said. He was among the 19 senators who voted against Medicaid expansion last week.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, chairman of the Senate Health, Labor and Social Services Committee, said the state is developing major problems with a number of its health-care providers.

"It will not solve all our problems," Scott said of the bill. "It will help on a one-time basis with the most serious problems. And it will give us a little breathing room. But, Mr. Chairman, don't anybody think this is going to be the last word."

Gov. Matt Mead had asked lawmakers to approve a Medicaid expansion bill, saying Wyoming hospitals needed the federal support to help cover hundreds of millions in uncompensated care every year.

Sen. Michael Von Flatern, R-Gillette, had sponsored the bill Medicaid expansion bill. Speaking after the Senate vote on Monday on the hospital-funding bill, he said it won't come close to the level of support that full Medicaid expansion would have offered.

"It's a very minor Band-Aid," Von Flatern said. "It's one-time funding that won't come even close to the deficit they'll run on their charity care, which I think is the only thing they're supposedly taking care of. There would have been more money flowing back to the hospitals if they had followed the expansion."

Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said he was grateful that lawmakers were doing something to try to help hospitals.

"We have certain hospitals in our state that are really struggling," Boley said. "We have others that are doing better. I think 13 of them that are operating on negative operating margins on an annual basis, so they're fragile, and any help we can get helps a little bit. But I think (Medicaid) expansion would have gone a lot further to helping the overall systematic problems we have."

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