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Healthy Frontiers Defeated (For Real This Time)

Yesterday afternoon, the Wyoming Senate adopted Joint Conference Committee Report 1 for Senate File 1, the Senate’s budget bill. Among many other things, this report removes a provision that would have continued funding the Healthy Frontiers program for another year.

This comes as a bit of a surprise, since this is the second time Healthy Frontiers had to be defeated this session. Just last week the Senate defeated Senate File 91 by a vote of 10-20, a bill that would have extended the program for another year under its original appropriation. But two days before that, SF91’s sponsor Senator Charles Scott also inserted (with Senate approval 19-11) an amendment into the budget bill to continue the program.

It’s no secret where WyLiberty stands on Healthy Frontiers: good intentions do not an effective program make, and although the program has been touted as Wyoming’s saving grace from the clutches of Obamacare, we’ve found it to be little more than Wyoming’s own version of Medicaid expansion.  Nevertheless, it has been the subject of a great deal of discussion here in Wyoming, and although procedurally it may have been appropriate to propose the continuation in two different places this session, to the average Wyomingite this does not pass the political-backdoor smell test.

Yesterday, before the Senate adopted the report, Senator Scott took a final stand for the program, and the response from Senator Phil Nicholas shows this double-dip approach to legislating does not just trip up constituents:

(2:30:00 to 2:30:13)

SEN. SCOTT: Mr. President.  Not a question. Mr. President, speaking on and against the conference report. Mr. President, I have three concerns.

***

(2:30:40 to 2:32:28) 

Mr. President, second—and more importantly—one of the things this conference report does is eliminate the Healthy Frontiers program. We had put in a budget amendment over here that changed the date so it could continue, but it was taken out in this. The result is that program will cease to exist on the first of July.  Why is that important? Mr. President, as you look forward to what’s staring us in the face with the national health reform, we’re going to have a big expansion in the Medicaid program in the very population we’re talking about with that program.  And absent Healthy Frontiers, we aren’t going to have an alternative to just going along with the expansion of the Medicaid program, which is a very high-cost program. And I predict to you that if we have to implement that—I predict the Congress will change it so we have to pay our normal Medicaid share—I predict to you that’s going to be large enough we don’t have an alternative and we just eliminated the alternative. So that in 2015 or 2016, Mr. President, you’re going to be voting for a tax increase to pay for that thing, because we’ve eliminated the alternative that might be a lower cost. Mr. President, that’s a fundamental mistake, and sufficient in my judgment to cause us to vote this budget down.

***

(2:38:10 to 2:40:20)

SEN. NICHOLAS: Going back to the questions and the points by my colleague—our colleague—from Natrona County, he’s absolutely correct and I apologize now for not having mentioned the deletion of the Healthy Frontiers program, and I understand the arguments. And I’d simply say this: it is a difficult position to be in when you’re conferencing on a project—an item—that failed in a bill form on our side but made it in the budget, because you cannot make an assumption necessarily that there were not people that voted against the bill because they knew it was in the budget. And we assume that’s the case—we assume that it earned a place in the budget and that in fact there are folks here that voted against the bill because it was in the budget. Having said that, we also know that we have colleagues here that believe that if it dies later in a bill form that we should know that there’s no support on it. It’s a conflicting position—what I can tell you is is that it was debated, and we took this position that there are members in our floor that voted against the bill because they knew it had been taken care of in the budget and it was important that we needed to have a mechanism to deal with the pending problem of the Affordable Care Act and what it means if we begin broadening the program if it’s not declared unconstitutional or otherwise set aside.  There was little to no support on the House for that position—for that amendment. And ultimately, the position you have deletes that, and I understand the argument—the best I can do is explain that we weren’t insensitive to that position, but that’s the result.

(I transcribed this from audio myself, and included time markers. The audio of yesterday’s session is available for download from the Legislative Services Office (right click and “save target as” to download the file)).

Update (5:00 p.m.): the Healthy Frontiers tag will take you to a trove of past commentary and analysis regarding the program, and show how–despite Senator Scott’s claims–the program is anything but an alternative to Medicaid.  Perhaps the most comprehensive rebuttal is Sven Larson’s analysis in the early days of the program.

Our investigative reporter JP Eichmiller will soon deliver the full story behind the journey of Healthy Frontiers this Budget Session.  For now, rest assured that the program is (seriously) no more.  Nevertheless, we must remain vigilant, because it could always come back next year.

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Monday, 25 September 2017
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