Kost talks Medicaid expansion, new center with seniors

Posted 6/15/21

Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, visited the Powell Senior Center on June 4 to hear what issues were most on the mind of local senior citizens.

Kost began by asking what the residents thought about the …

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Kost talks Medicaid expansion, new center with seniors


Sen. R.J. Kost, R-Powell, visited the Powell Senior Center on June 4 to hear what issues were most on the mind of local senior citizens.

Kost began by asking what the residents thought about the Medicaid expansion bill. 

Medicaid, unlike Medicare, provides benefits to people below certain income thresholds. The expansion bill, which failed in the last session, would have closed a gap between those eligible for Medicaid and those who qualify for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. 

The Wyoming Department of Health estimates that the expansion would have enrolled about 13,000 to 38,000 Wyoming residents, lowered private insurance rates and reduced the burden of bad debt at local hospitals.

Kost didn’t express support for or against the measure, but he did point out it could benefit Powell Valley Healthcare. In February, the hospital had a fiscal year-to-date total of $2.5 million in bad debt. Likewise, as a critical access hospital, PVHC is required to provide a certain amount of charitable care.

The American Rescue Plan would kick in about $120 million over several years to support Medicaid expansion. Some critics are concerned that once that federal support runs out, Wyoming would be obligated to pay for the program itself, as ending it would leave all those within the gap without any medical coverage.

“Then it becomes a political issue to turn your backs on those people,” Kost said. 

Speaking after the event, Kost said the main feedback he got on the issue was that many seniors weren’t sure what Medicaid expansion would mean. While seniors are covered by Medicare, Kost said some fall into that gap range and would benefit from the Medicaid expansion. 

The talk, he said, showed him more needs to be done to explain the issue to seniors and why they might want to know more about it. 

Kost also discussed efforts to secure funding for a new senior center utilizing funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP). The current center has a number of issues, including a lack of space and non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Kost said the rules of eligibility for ARP funding are still being hammered out, so it’s still not clear if there will be an opportunity for building a new center. Kost believes it’s possible the project might qualify for some economic development funding under the plan.

A better center would facilitate more senior exercise programs, health initiatives, and socialization opportunities, which would save the community in long term care and other healthcare costs. It could also provide a space for other community education programs. 

While there are no certainties, Kost said he’s working with Powell Senior Center Executive Director Linda Dalton to pursue whatever opportunities arise. 

“We’re going to continue to work on it to see if we can make it happen,” Kost said. 

The seniors at the center also brought up a few other issues that concerned them. 

With budgets shrunk by last year’s pandemic and a steep decline in mineral revenues, budgets at the state level continue to be strained. Some seniors wondered how the state would meet its obligations for education and healthcare, the state’s two largest expenses. 

Kost said the issue really wasn’t addressed in that last session, so it remains something to contend with in the future. 

“At some point, we need to hold that [education] expense down. Education is climbing faster than our revenue,” Kost said.

Wyoming receives high marks for the quality of its K-12 education, Kost said, but maintaining a balanced budget might mean “instead of a Cadillac, maybe we’re looking at a Chevy or a Ford.”

With the recent announcement that Wyoming had been selected as a potential location for a next-generation Natrium nuclear reactor, Kost discussed the changing energy landscape in the state. 

“We have to accept the fact that coal, oil and gas are not going to be the prime substances for energy of the future. … It’s important that we embrace that and not just turn away,” Kost said. 

Gary Peterson, a retired engineer, pointed out that nuclear plants have operated without incident. He also explained how the intermittency of wind and solar limit their potential.

“Green power is only part-time power,” Peterson said. 

Bob Graff, who serves on the Powell Planning and Zoning Board, asked if the state was doing anything to make sure online sales taxes are collected on all online transactions by Wyoming residents. 

“How do you know we’re getting what we’re supposed to be getting?” Graff asked. 

Kost said there may be some online sales that are not getting taxed properly. While it’s easy to ensure compliance from large retailers such as Amazon, smaller sites might not be compliant. He said it’s an issue he’s looking into.