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Mead says feds are ducking health care questions

Associated Press Published: November 16, 2012

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has expressed mounting frustration with the Obama administration, saying the secretary of Health and Human Services has not answered his requests for additional information regarding the federal health care law.

Mead wrote to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Friday stating that her department's failure to respond to a pair of earlier letters means the state will likely miss a key deadline next month.

"Both letters asked questions that I felt needed answered before we, as a state, can make the best decisions for the health care of our citizens," the Republican governor wrote. "To date, you and your office have not answered my questions by letter or otherwise."

An HHS spokesman, however, said the department has "already issued information and guidance to states regarding the law."

"We have worked with all states to give them the flexibility, resources, and time they need to implement the health care law," Fabien Levy, press secretary for HHS, said in a written statement to The Associated Press.

Levy's statement said the department will "continue to do everything possible to answer particular questions and provide technical assistance to state leaders."

The statement did not address why the agency hasn't responded to Mead's July and October requests.

Mead has been an outspoken critic of the health care overhaul and joined an unsuccessful federal lawsuit with other states challenging it as unconstitutional.

Under the law, Wyoming faces decisions on whether to accept an increase in Medicaid eligibility and whether it will commit to creating a health insurance exchange where state residents and businesses can shop online for health care plans.

Mead said that without clarification from HHS, Wyoming is unlikely to meet a Dec. 14 cutoff date to specify whether the state would operate a health insurance exchange or leave the process up to the federal government. That deadline was pushed back by a month on Thursday.

Mead said last week he intended to make a decision by early December, when he submits his proposed state budget to Wyoming lawmakers, whether to recommend if the state should accept the expansion of its Medicaid program.

State officials say Medicaid program served over 77,000 people in Wyoming last year at a cost of over $500 million, split evenly between the state and federal governments. Expanding the program could add another 30,000 people to the rolls.

The federal government has pledged to pick up the bulk of the Medicaid expansion costs. Mead, however, has expressed concern that the state ultimately could get stuck with increased expenses if the federal government fails to live up to its promises, noting Washington's perilous financial condition.

Mead noted in his letter that Wyoming was among the states that challenged the law before the U.S. Supreme Court this year. The court ruled this summer that although the law is constitutional, states have the right to opt out of the proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility.

"I was one of the governors who joined the lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. We lost," Mead wrote to Sebelius. "The Wyoming legislature and my office want to move forward. In order to do so, we need HHS to engage with us to provide answers to questions that affect patients, providers, hospitals and taxpayers. Without meaningful discussion and answers, we cannot move forward."


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