Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Take care of Wyoming’s children

Rallying for civil rights for gays, lesbians

Health insurance will be extended to more Wyoming children who live in homes with incomes that barely make ends meet if an effort to expand eligibility for Wyoming’s KidCare CHIP program passes the legislature.

Sen. Mike Massie of Laramie has proposed SF 39 – Children’s health insurance program. His measure calls for opening the program to children in families whose earnings do not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level. The program currently is available to children in families with income up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

Sen. Massie told the Senate Labor Committee Wednesday that nearly 3,700 Wyoming children who currently do not have health insurance would qualify if the eligibility limit is raised. The program presently covers about 5,800 children.

Children who are in good health are more successful at school, he noted.

“If they don’t have the health care, they don’t have the kinds of education outcomes” the state seeks through its huge investment in public schools, he noted.

The federal government presently will pay 65% of the cost of insuring children in families with incomes up to 250% of the federal poverty level. Sen. Massie indicated that it appears the federal government will soon extend that assistance to families with earnings equal to 300% of federal poverty.

Children in general are a healthy group, so the cost of insuring them is fairly low. Blue Cross Blue Shield currently provides the insurance for the KidCare program at a cost of about $188 per month per child, according to Patti Guzman of the Department of Health. Those monthly costs are expected to rise to about $200 per month if the changes proposed by Sen. Massie are approved.

Guzman noted that federal law requires coverage of all eligible children, regardless of pre-existing conditions.

The measure enjoys broad support. The Wyoming Hospital Association, AARP, the Wyoming Children’s Action Alliance, the Catholic Diocese of Wyoming, the Wyoming Nurses Association, and the ESPC testified in support of the expansion of coverage in Wednesday’s hearing.

Supporters noted the program provides insurance relatively cheaply and significantly reduces the incidences of uncompensated care that hurt doctors, hospitals and other providers. That reduces the cost shifting that has led one group to estimate that $934 of the average family’s $12,000 health insurance premium goes to cover the cost of uncompensated care in the American health system.

Senate File 39 also proposed coverage of up to 3,500 parents or guardians of eligible children. But Sen. Massie, noting that separate bill to provide insurance to some adults has been sponsored by committee Chairman Charles Scott already has been approved by the committee, suggested that the adult-coverage portion of his bill could be excised.

It was, but not before Sen. John Schiffer of Kaycee made a strong case for including it. Sen. Schiffer noted that Wyoming’s economy often trails the nation’s by about 18 months. With the U.S. economy in trouble, he suggested the Equality State may see a “slide” in its economy in 2010. He worried that families headed by adults who often are the “last hired, first fired” will need health coverage then.

“You’ve got to have these kinds of programs in place when you hit that slide,” he argued. “This bill goes to the heart of the health problem in that population.”

"This bill goes to the heart of the health problem in that population." -
Sen. John Schiffer

Sens. Scott, Bill Landen and Rick Hunnicutt were not convinced by Sen. Schiffer. The committee voted 3-2 to remove the coverage of parents or guardians of children who qualify for the program. Nevertheless, the committee approved the measure with the 300% coverage limit. The bill now goes to the Senate General File where it will be heard by the full Senate.

Civil rights for gays and lesbians

Gay rights are the civil rights issue of our era. A measure that would bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, HB 203, will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee Monday. It is sponsored by Rep. Cathy Connolly of Laramie and simply provides the same protections that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, age, national original or economic status.

Considerable public support will be required to ensure passage.

A far more insidious proposal, HR 17 Defense of marriage, calls for a constitutional amendment to allow the state to ignore valid marriage contracts made in other states or countries by people of the same gender.

Proponents say it is not an anti-gay measure. They argue that it is instead aimed at protecting the institution of marriage and will help ensure that children have a mother and a father.


These adherents are no different than the defenders of segregation and the Jim Crow laws that discriminated against African-Americans living in the South 50 years ago. Those laws and this proposed amendment were and are intended to isolate a particular group of people and deny them rights enjoyed by more privileged members of society.

Wyoming people should shout down this bill. The House Judiciary Committee will hear the proposal next Tuesday, Feb, 3 in Room 302 of the Capitol. Please join us in urging the committee to vote this bill down. Please stand up for human rights and equality in Wyoming.