On Monday, the house Labor Health and Human Services committee stayed late after its scheduled meeting to discuss the precarious existence of some of the state’s hospitals. The discussion, encouraged by Chairman Elaine Harvey (R-Big Horn/Park Counties), was more of a loose brainstorming session than anything intended to come up with a plan on the spot.
Harvey pushed the committee to come to their next meeting with some ideas. She said that if they waited a year, three of the state’s hospitals would close. Stressing to the other lawmakers the importance of all of the state’s hospitals, Rep. Harvey shared the story of an injured Basin man from a few years ago, who “lost his golden hour” because of a hospital closing at the time and died.
Representative Harvey’s keenness on insuring a stable future to the state’s healthcare system may come as a surprise to some, after she pulled the session’s last remaining Medicaid expansion bill from her committee last week without so much as discussing it. She said at the time that the senate (where the bill would have headed after passage) had proven that they were in no mood to pass any form of Medicaid expansion. The bill was “an exercise in futility”, according to Harvey. And maybe she was right, the senate had killed both the Department of Health backed SHARE Plan and an alternative plan that they got to design, themselves. When asked why she felt the need to protect these hospitals and services, when legislators feel an apparent mandate from voters not to act on healthcare, Harvey said, “I just feel this tremendous sense of responsibility as the chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services that it’s my job to guide the committee into solution building.“
Solution building may be easier said than done, however. Within that same committee meeting, Rep. Harlen Edmunds (R-Laramie County) hinted that he would never vote in favor of any healthcare spending until ACA is dead. And there’s the rub; nationally unpopular legislation is being used as an excuse by many in the legislature to pad their conservative credentials. Rep. Harvey bemoaned the Wyoming’s aging population as a major reason that healthcare services throughout the state may need extra support, but those same older, more conservative voters are the precise base that many congresspersons feel would never accept a politician who voted in favor of using state funds on healthcare. And maybe those politicians are right in that interpretation of what their constituents want. But there has to be some middle ground between fiscal responsibility and letting hospitals close down – letting people who need those hospitals die.
Representative Harvey said that she would be open to a wide variety of solutions, mentioning SF 145 as a possible vehicle to keep some of the state’s harder scrabble hospitals open. The bill would allow the state to pay hospitals for care rendered to those unable to pay for it themselves. She acknowledged that such an action would be a stop gap measure at best, but keeping hospitals open will literally save lives in the state.
When asked whether the legislature could figure out a way to come together and keep the state’s hospitals open, Rep. Harvey paused, looking out at the by then illuminated city of Cheyenne from the top floor of the capitol building. After a moment, she said the question would ultimately be “can we agree on which one is the right solution?”
SF 145 passed its second reading in the senate this morning with a few amendments, available here. The third reading should be within the next couple days.