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Poll: Majority Of Wyoming Voters Support Medicaid Expansion

in News/Health care
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A majority of Wyoming voters questioned in a recent survey support the expansion of Medicaid to provide health insurance coverage for more people, a new poll released by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network showed.

The poll also found many Wyoming residents are concerned about their health care situation. More than one in four said they are worried that they will lose health insurance, and many have lacked health insurance in the past three years.

Wyoming is one of 12 states that has not expanded Medicaid. If it did, around 24,000 additional state residents could have access to health insurance through the federal program.

The poll of 500 registered voters, which was conducted by New Bridge Strategy, showed that 66% of Wyoming residents polled supported expanding Medicaid.

Support for expansion spanned political party lines, although it was not uniform. According to the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.38%, 58% of Wyoming Republicans and 64% of Wyoming Independents questioned supported expansion, while 98% of Wyoming Democrats supported it.

“The latest Wyoming Department of Health numbers suggest an estimated 29% of new enrollees in Wyoming would be between the ages of 50 and 64. These are our neighbors and co-workers and when they thrive, so do we. We know that access to care makes it easier to work, find a new job, pay for basic needs and succeed in today’s economy,” said Sam Shumway, AARP Wyoming state director.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds of Wyoming voters polled said they know someone who would benefit from Medicaid expansion and more than one in four (27%) said they are worried that they or someone in their household will be without health insurance in the next year.

“Our neighbors in Montana, Nebraska, Utah and Idaho are all benefiting from extending health coverage to low-income residents – it’s time for Wyoming to join them,” said R.J. Ours, ACS CAN Wyoming government relations director. “These results show people’s very real concerns about cost of care and access to it for themselves and their families. They’re picturing loved ones who may be struggling to see doctors, pay for medications and get the care they need.”

Additional findings from the poll included:

  • 65% of residents said they want their state legislator to support Medicaid expansion;
  • More than half of voters say the health care system is not meeting the needs of working, lower-income residents, and
  • Nearly one in three of those surveyed say health care costs and access to care are the most important issues in Wyoming.

“Regardless of political party or region of the state, Wyoming residents want our family, friends and neighbors to have health care,” said Richard Garrett, American Heart Association of Wyoming government relations director. “It’s great to see this level of support across the state, and we will be working hard with lawmakers to make sure that we increase access to health care for those who need it most.”

During their 2021 general session, Wyoming legislators considered a proposal to increase access to care by expanding Medicaid to roughly 24,000 residents. The bill passed the House, but fell short by one vote of winning needed approval from a Senate committee.

Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, recently penned an opinion piece that took a stance against Medicaid expansion in Wyoming.

“If Wyoming expands Medicaid, our hospitals will lose over $16 million in annual revenues, meaning fewer hospital jobs and fewer beds available,” Driskill wrote. “And if we ever do expand, I believe a new hospital tax will be needed to cover Wyoming’s share of extra costs.”

Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, a supporter of the Legislature’s most recent Medicaid expansion bill, did not immediately respond to Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment.

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South Dakota Woman Ordered To Pay $76K In Wyoming Medicaid Fraud

in News/Crime
Doctor showing patient image on laptop, ALT=Medicaid study bill nears last House vote
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

After being convicted in May of defrauding the Wyoming Medicaid program of tens of thousands of dollars, a South Dakota woman was sentenced late last week to prison in the incident.

Holli Telford Lundahl, 64, of Oelrichs, South Dakota, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal to two years and three months in prison, with three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $76,626.65 in restitution to the Wyoming Medicaid program and a $500 supervised release.

“Lundahl deserves every bit of that sentence. She robbed Wyomingites of receiving legitimate funds for necessary care through Wyoming’s Medicaid System,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “The sentence speaks to the hard work put into investigating and prosecuting the case, and we thank the Wyoming Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and our prosecution team for putting a stop to this injustice.”

A jury found Lundahl guilty on three counts of health care fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft after a one-week trial held in April.

In March 2020, Lundahl was indicted on allegations that she ran three overlapping schemes to defraud Wyoming Medicaid by submitting false claims for long-term care provided to her sibling and the unlawful possession and use of identity information of two individuals, including Lundahl’s niece, in furtherance of two of the charged schemes.

The evidence at trial showed that Wyoming Medicaid operates a long-term care program designed to keep beneficiaries out of nursing homes and other institutional settings. This program provides limited payments for certain direct support services provided to beneficiaries by properly qualified and enrolled workers.

Lundahl, using her niece’s name, Social Security number and other identifying information, enrolled her niece in this program as a caregiver for Lundahl’s sister.

Lundahl then submitted claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work she said was done by the niece when in fact the niece had not provided any services. Lundahl’s niece did not know her identity was being used and had never been to Wyoming before testifying at her aunt’s trial.

The false information provided by Lundahl caused Wyoming Medicaid money to be paid in the niece’s name into a credit union account controlled by Lundahl.

Evidence at trial also proved that Lundahl advertised for a direct support worker in Lusk. When a young woman responded to the ad, Lundahl convinced the woman to share her social security number and other identification information with Lundahl in order to be hired.

The woman worked one day, was paid cash for her time and was not asked to return.

Lundahl then used the young woman’s information to submit false claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work that the woman did not perform.

As a result, Wyoming Medicaid money was paid in the young woman’s name into a credit union account controlled by Lundahl.

Finally, evidence at trial proved that Lundahl enrolled herself as a direct support worker However, she had the power of attorney for her sister and therefore could not be enrolled under Medicaid’s long-term care rules.

Lundahl then submitted claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work when she was not eligible to be paid for this work and she received Wyoming Medicaid money when she was not eligible to receive such payments.

“It was nice to have the opportunity to partner together to root out Medicaid fraud and protect the Medicaid program from these sorts of abuses,” Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill said. “This is important work as it helps assure that the Medicaid program is available to provide medical care for those citizens who truly need it.”

The case was investigated by the Wyoming Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and prosecuted by Senior Assistant Attorney General Travis Kirchhefer of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and Assistant United States Attorney Eric Heimann.

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South Dakota Woman Convicted of Medicaid Fraud, Identity Theft In Wyoming

in News/Crime
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A South Dakota woman was convicted this week on multiple counts of health care fraud and identify theft in Wyoming.

The U.S. Attorney’s office in Cheyenne annnounced Holli Telford Lundahl, 64, was convicted on three charges of health care fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft after a one-week trial in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne. She is accused of using other people’s identities to bill Wyoming Medicaid for work that was never done.

She is scheduled to be sentenced in July and will serve at least four years, two for each identify theft count. Those sentences will be consecutive to any prison term imposed for the health care fraud, but may be imposed concurrent to one another.

A fine of up to $250,000 could be imposed for each count.

In March 2020, Lundahl was indicted on the charges, which were connected to three overlapping schemes to defraud Wyoming Medicaid by submitting false claims for long-term care provided to Lundahl’s sister.

The evidence at trial showed that Wyoming Medicaid operates a long-term care program designed to keep beneficiaries out of nursing homes and other institutional settings. This program provides limited payments for certain direct support services provided to beneficiaries by properly qualified and enrolled workers.

Lundahl, using her niece’s name, Social Security number and other identifying information, enrolled her niece in this program as a caregiver for Lundahl’s sister.

Lundahl then submitted claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work she said was done by the niece’s when in fact the niece had not provided any services. Lundahl’s niece did not know her identity was being used and had never been to Wyoming before testifying at trial.

The false information provided by Lundahl caused Wyoming Medicaid money to be paid in the niece’s name into a credit union account controlled by Lundahl.

Evidence at trial also proved that Lundahl advertised for a direct support worker in Lusk. When a young woman responded to the ad, Lundahl convinced the woman to share her social security number and other identification information with Lundahl in order to be hired.

The woman worked one day, was paid cash for her time and was not asked to return.

Lundahl then used the young woman’s information to submit false claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work that the woman did not perform.

As a result, Wyoming Medicaid money was paid in the young woman’s name into a credit union account controlled by Lundahl.

Finally, evidence at trial proved that Lundahl enrolled herself as a direct support worker when she had a power of attorney for her sister and therefore could not be enrolled under Medicaid’s long-term care rules.

Lundahl then submitted claims to Wyoming Medicaid for direct support work when she was not eligible to be paid for this work and she received Wyoming Medicaid money was paid to her when she was not eligible to receive such payments.

“I applaud my litigation team, the court and the Wyoming Medicaid Fraud Control Unit for stopping this blatant abuse of the system,” said Acting United States Attorney Bob Murray. “Identifying and preventing Medicaid fraud continues to be one of our highest priorities and we remain steadfast in ensuring that Medicaid dollars are preserved for those who most need them.”  

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Medicaid Expansion in Wyoming: Supporters, Opponents Debate

in Government spending/News/Health care
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By Bob Geha, Cowboy State Daily

A plan to expand Medicaid to provide more Wyoming residents with health insurance coverage might help keep people in Wyoming, but the cost might be too much for the state to handle, speakers at a panel discussion on the idea said Thursday.

Opponents and supporters of a bill proposed by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee debated the idea during a panel discussion hosted by the Wyoming Liberty Group.

The Revenue Committee’s bill is headed to the full Legislature for its consideration during its budget session, which begins Feb. 10. Estimates indicate that the bill would allow another 19,000 Wyoming residents to qualify for coverage under Medicaid at a cost of $9 million a year to the state.

Jan Cartright, executive director of the Wyoming Primary Care Association, said the benefits would outweigh the risks of adopting the expansion plan similar to programs in place in 37 other states.

“I think this is about people’s lives and I think I will work very hard with legislators to provide common sense arguments that are based on fact that would show this is a gamble Wyoming should take,” she said.

Several legislators, however, expressed concern over the cost of the program. The total cost is estimated at $154 million every two years, with the federal government paying about $136 million of the cost, leaving the state to pay the remaining $18 million.

“Ten percent of a large number is still a large number,” said Sen. Bo Biteman, R-Sheridan. “And we don’t have that money. We are scrambling, scratching and clawing, looking under the mattress for quarters. We’re not in any position to grow our state government at all. We need to be cutting our government.”

However, Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said the expansion might help keep residents in the state in the face of declining jobs in the mineral industry.

“In the next five years alone, we’re projected to lose 1,000 more jobs,” he said. “They equate that to about 4,000 people in the state that won’t have employment. They’re probably going to be forced to move somewhere else.

“The nice thing about Medicaid expansion in that respect, they’re part of the community, they want to hold on,” he continued. “If they can have access to part-time jobs to get them through until they can find other full-time employment in the state and we can keep them here, that’s great. Once they leave, we’re not getting them back.”

But the added burden of $18 million every two years for the state Health Department could result in cuts to existing department programs, said Rep. Sue Wilson, R-Cheyenne.

“I am very concerned, if our revenue picture’s the same, that we would expand Medicaid and then tell the department to find that money, $20 million a biennium, roughly, inside your agency,” she said.

However, Josh Hannes, vice president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said the expansion would give officials in the state and the health industry to work together to develop a plan that would fit the state.

“We have an opportunity, I think, to work with our policy makers, our Department of Health, Department of Insurance, our folks at (the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to create a plan that works for Wyoming,” he said.

Naomi Lopez of the Goldwater Institute warned attendees that an extra influx of federal money will not necessarily lead to improved health care.

“There are a lot of areas where you can actually improve the delivery of care at a lower cost and really break away from this idea that government spending is going to be some kind of silver bullet to what ails your health care system,” she said. “It is not. What is actually going to fix the health care system is focusing on patient-centric solutions and I think that is not what Medicaid expansion is going to provide.”

Legislative committee approves Medicaid expansion plan

in News/Health care/Taxes
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CHEYENNE — A plan to expand Medicaid coverage to about 19,000 Wyoming residents won approval from a legislative committee on Tuesday.

The Legislature’s Revenue Committee voted 8-5 to send to the full Legislature a bill that would expand Medicaid coverage at a cost of about $154 million for two years. Federal funds would cover about $136 million of the cost, with the state picking up the remaining $18 million.

Supporters argued that given declines in the state’s mineral industry, residents will need the extra assistance provided by expanded Medicaid coverage.

“I think the coal bankruptcies up in the northeast have made people sit back and think a little bit differently about our economy,” said committee member Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie. “We know that people are going to lose their jobs. We know it. Every bit of information points to it.”

Marcie Kindred, a Cheyenne Democrat who plans to run for the state House of Representatives, said the state owes it to its residents to provide assistance.

“I’m really lucky that I have a network of support of people to help me get out of that cycle of poverty,” said Kincaid, a mother of four who has relied on Medicaid coverage. “But what about the people that don’t have that network of support, that don’t have that health (coverage)? We, as citizens of Wyoming, have to care for our own. We have to be that support and turn back and pull them out.”

Opponents of the measure argued that the state will have to pick up a larger share of the expense should the federal government reduce its level of support.

“The federal government does not have the money for this,” said Karl Allred, a former state representative from Evanston. “Eventually, that’s going to go away. And once you’re into it, you can’t get out really effectively. Are you going to tell people all of a sudden now that you’ve been giving them health care and now you’re going to take it away?”

Bob Wharff, a lobbyist from Evanston, agreed.

“If we become dependent and reliant upon the government to fulfill that and it falls apart, there’s no other safety net there,” he said.

The measure will be forwarded to the full Legislature for its consideration during its upcoming budget session in 2020.

Medicaid work requirement bill an effort to make people self-reliant, says senator

in News/Health care
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By Cowboy State Daily

A failed bill that would have required people receiving Medicaid to work, attend school or take part in volunteer activities would have been a way to get people off of a cycle of dependence, according to a state senator.

Sen. Scott Clem, R-Gillette, said SF 144 would have encouraged a small number of people receiving benefits to rely more on themselves.

“The whole idea behind this is to not be so dependent upon the government, have a little bit of self-reliance,” Clem said. “And that’s good for people.”

The bill was killed on a vote of 39-20 in the House on Wednesday. It would have contained exemptions for people with serious medical conditions or disabilities, pregnant women and people in substance abuse programs.

Opponents of the bill argued throughout the session that the majority of people receiving benefits already face difficult times because of the illness or disability that forced them to rely on assistance to begin with.

“If you really want to help people, taking away their health care or threatening to take away their health care is not the way to do it,” said Chris Merrill of the Equality State Policy Center.

The bill was one of three killed in the first items of House business Wednesday as representatives tried to get through their last eight bills on third and final reading.

House begins final day by killing three bills

in Government spending/News/Health care/Taxes
Graduates toss their caps in the air, ALT=Wyoming to offer bachelors degrees at community colleges
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By Cowboy State Daily

The first three bills to be reviewed by Wyoming’s House on what was scheduled to be the last day of its 2019 general session did not fare well on Wednesday.

Bills addressing Medicaid eligibility, the payment of sales tax on large construction projects and the role of the state Select Committee on School Facilities in construction projects all died in their third and final reading on the House floor.

However, a bill designed to encourage students to pursue technical courses at the state’s community colleges was approved, as was a bill that would allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in applied science.

The Legislature scheduled itself to end its session on Wednesday. Legislators spent much of the day addressing Gov. Mark Gordon’s veto of 14 footnotes to the supplemental budget.

The House was the only chamber with regular business left to address — eight bills on third and final reading.

But SF 103, 114 and 144 all died on their final votes.

SF 144 would impose requirements for those receiving Medicaid assistance to either work, attend school or complete volunteer duty. The bill, which died on a vote of 39-20, would have exempted those with serious medical problems from the requirement.

SF 103 would have expanded the role of the Select Committee on School Facilities to oversee community college and state capital construction projects. It died on a vote of 51-8.

SF 114 would have allowed companies building industrial facilities to work out contracts for the payment of sales and use taxes on those facilities over 20 years. It was killed in a vote of 33-25.

However, in a session that ran well past 7 p.m., representatives approved SF 111, a bill that would let community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in applied science, approving the measure on a vote of 51-8.

Also approved was SF 122, a bill that would provide grants for students wishing to pursue technical programs at community colleges. Dubbed the “Wyoming Works Program,” it would also provide funding for community colleges to offer such programs. Students would not be required to have a high school diploma to take part in the program.

SF 134, a bill that would provide exemptions for some oil and natural gas production from wells that had been shut down and then restarted, was also approved.

Medicaid work requirement bill nears final reading

in News/Health care
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A bill that would require Medicaid recipients to work or attend school is nearing its final House vote.

SF 144 cleared its second vote in the House on Monday, setting it up for a third and final reading by representatives on Tuesday.

The bill would require Medicaid recipients to work, do volunteer work or attend school to maintain their eligibility. The bill’s supporters have said the requirements would affect about 3,200 people.

Exceptions would be in place for people with serious medical conditions or disabilities, pregnancy and for people in substance abuse programs.

Backers maintain the bill would help the state identify people who are receiving Medicaid assistance but should not be.

“I wouldn’t say freeloaders,” said Rep. Clarence Styvar, R-Cheyenne. “I’d say people that are working the system.”

But opponents argue people on Medicaid are already encountering enough challenges without facing a requirement to find a job or attend school.

“Let’s actually try to help those folks, not put them in a place where they’re at further disadvange, i.e. by losing thier health benefits,” said Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette.

In Brief: Medicaid study bill clears first House hurdle

in News/Health care
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By Cowboy State Daily

A proposed study into the cost of Medicaid expansion barely cleared the House on Wednesday.

SF 146 was approved in its first review by the full House by a vote of 30-28. The bill would require the state Insurance Department to conduct a study into the cost of making Medicaid coverage available to more Wyoming residents.

Supporters have argued that before the state expands Medicaid coverage, it needs to know how many people would be affected and how much it would cost the state. The study would also look into the impact on health care providers, given the fact Medicaid dictates the cost of the services they provide.

The bill will be read a second time Thursday.

In Brief: Representatives reject Medicaid expansion

in News/Health care
Capsule pills pouring out of a glass, ALT=medicaid
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By Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s representatives on Monday rejected a plan to expand eligibility for Medicaid while requiring recipients to work, take part in volunteer projects or further their education.

HB 244 would have expanded Medicaid benefits to anyone making less than 133 percent of the federal property level. It also would have required recipients to work, go to school, take some form of vocational training or take part in volunteer activities to be eligible for benefits.

The measure was killed in its first review by the full House on a vote of 36-23. It’s death came as representatives spent most of the day reviewing bills on the “General File,” the list of measures that have been reported out of committee and are awaiting a first review by the full chamber.

Monday was the deadline for the House and Senate to finish their reviews of the bills on “General File.” Any bills not reviewed by the end of business on Monday failed.

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