CHEYENNE — Although two bills addressing the expansion and extension of Medicaid coverage passed through House committees this week, leadership in the Wyoming Legislature said they may not get much farther through the approval process.
Both House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, and Senate President Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, reflected Friday morning on the possibility the bills would pass in both chambers. While they couldn’t say what the future held for Medicaid expansion or extending postpartum coverage for mothers to a year, they said they were open to a debate on the floor.
Sommers said it came down to the will of House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett. His responsibility entails organizing the day-to-day schedules for bills, and the role described by the National Conference of State Legislatures said floor leaders help with policy formation and direction of the party.
Driskill added that majority floor leaders also have the ability to “heavily handedly” kill a bill, and he has taken action in his past role as the Senate Majority Floor Leader when he felt bills would hurt the state. He said he held back bills last year that he believed were potentially dangerous or would force Gov. Mark Gordon into a bad position.
He was backed by Sommers, who said that’s the reason any leader would “place a bill in the drawer” based on their own perspective. He said if Neiman were to do the same, it wasn’t because he was trying to be mean or hateful.
“And that’s Chip’s call. I don’t know when or if it’ll hit the floor. And likewise, with Medicaid expansion, if it comes out, it may not hit the floor,” he said. “If it hits the floor, it’s a totally different body than the last time. I don’t know how it will do.”
House Bill 80 came out of the House Revenue Committee on Thursday on a 6-3 vote, and the Medicaid 12-month postpartum coverage bill was approved 5-4 by the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee last week. It had to be re-referred to the House Appropriations Committee due to its funding allocation, but was passed there unanimously.
These bills are on the House side, which will require the 62-member body to pass them on three readings before they can move to the 31-member Senate. They would then need movement by Senate Majority Floor Leader Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs.
“I will put it out of my drawer this year. That’s going to be up to Sen. Hicks; it will very likely come out,” said Driskill. “I’ve sat with Speaker Sommers on another issue, and I feel like an honest debate on part of that needs to be had. It’s obvious it’s out there.”
The issue Driskill visited with Sommers about Friday morning was his recent op-ed weighing in on Medicaid expansion.
A local media outlet titled it “Medicaid Expansion — The Democrat Version of the American Dream.” The the piece, Driskill outlined the reasons for his opposition to the extension of Medicaid benefits to more people. He also criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for shutting down fossil fuels, and its desire to destroy the state’s ranching, farming and timber industries.
“And it’s not just Democrats — heaven knows ‘Biden Republicans’ have done their share of damage,” Driskill wrote. “For example, Ohio and North Carolina have similar populations. Ohio expanded Medicaid in 2014 under a ‘Biden Republican’ governor, while North Carolina never did. Nine years later, Ohio’s overall Medicaid spending alone now exceeds North Carolina’s entire General Fund budget!”
He said if his colleagues wanted the federal government to pay for health care, there were smarter ways to go about it.
Driskill concluded that if supporters were going to expand Medicaid, voters should understand whose camp it puts them in.
“It is the Democrat version of the American dream — cradle to grave government dependency for all, while that same government robs us of our means to earn a living here in Wyoming,” he concluded.
The Senate president said there were two individuals who were not happy with the op-ed, and he was sorry if he offended anyone. He said he wasn’t going to resort to name-calling colleagues or friends, and he would ask someone in a similar position to correct the record and state they don’t intend to use political splits to drive issues.
“That was bad on my part. I should have done a little better job working my way through it. I’m very passionate,” he said. “And, to some degree, it is a Republican-Democrat issue on a national level, but it certainly is not in this body. We’ve got people from both sides that do. And I respect them, and I respect their opinions. Some of them are my closest friends.”
Sommers is one of the Republican lawmakers who has changed his mind about Medicaid expansion. He said he voted against it for years, and it wasn’t until he got more examples from people in his own community who might be helped that he decided to support it.
He said he appreciated Driskill speaking with him, because the senator was not afraid to apologize. He said those who never learn how to apologize miss out on a big part of life.
Sommers said he also recognized the serious debate that ensues when it comes to Medicaid expansion. He said some are going on faith that the state needs it, and some are hesitating because of the unknown impact.
As leaders, they both said they also have to gauge the amount of time available in the general session.
Driskill said it was pretty clear last year that Medicaid expansion wasn’t going to pass in the Senate, and Sommers said a hard decision has to be made when it comes to debate. There are hundreds of bills available for conversation, and he said the majority floor leader has to hear legislation that has a chance to pass.
“There’s (93) people here and they all have ideas of what’s important to them,” Driskill said. “And for one, it’s Medicaid expansion. For another, it’s charter schools. For another, it’s Moon Day.”