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By Tom Coulter
Wyoming Tribune Eagle Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Plan to use Cheyenne schools as pilot program for Medicaid reimbursements moves forward


February 27, 2020

By Tom Coulter

Wyoming Tribune Eagle

Via Wyoming News Exchange

CHEYENNE – Wyoming could soon join the other 49 states that charge Medicaid for special education services if legislation moving through the Capitol becomes law, and Laramie County School District 1 has emerged as the district to get the program off the ground.

The state has historically reimbursed school districts for 100% of the costs associated with special education services like speech therapy and mental health counseling, though that changed in 2018 when the Legislature enacted a spending cap to keep special education funding at the level of recent years.

Under House Bill 119, districts would instead be allowed to split the costs of those services 50-50 between the federal and state government. After sailing out of the House last week by a 47-11 vote, HB 119 was unanimously approved Monday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The Medicaid program wouldn't change much for the state's 48 school districts, which already get reimbursed through the state. Its main benefit would be to the state's coffers, allowing lawmakers to deposit federal Medicaid reimbursements into its main school fund.

"Over time, it would help mitigate the rise of the state expenditures on special education, with some of that federal money used to meet the future demands," Wyoming Department of Education Chief of Staff Dicky Shanor told lawmakers Monday.

Estimates have shown Wyoming would gain roughly $4.3 million over the first biennium of the program's implementation. However, Shanor noted those figures could change, depending on how many districts immediately join.

Districts would not be required to participate in the program under HB 119, but any district with 25 or more Medicaid-eligible students would be allowed to do so. Before the program is fully expanded, however, a pilot version of the billing setup may be instituted in LCSD1.

Lawmakers first began discussing LCSD1 as an option to pilot the billing program during a committee meeting in December. In an interview following Monday's meeting, LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown said the district is in the process of figuring out how to set up its billing system for the program.

The district will also be keeping a close eye on House Bill 46, which would lift the spending cap on special education services first implemented in 2018.

Brown noted the district may have to hire some outside health care providers to track Medicaid-eligible students, which could be difficult without the $6.2 million set aside for HB 46.

"We're really hoping they pass (House Bill 46) so that we can do this," Brown said.

Based on conversations with the Wyoming Department of Health and the Department of Education, Brown said the fastest the billing program might be set up would be in 18 months. While the program doesn't offer any tangible benefits to each district, Brown said his district was willing to volunteer.

"There's no real upside for us other than it's going to save the state some money," Brown said. "We're just trying to be good stewards of taxpayers' money."

During the committee meeting Monday, the only change made to HB 119 was a reduction in the appropriations to begin the program. While the bill originally contained two $5 million appropriations from the state's school fund and from federal funds, an amendment from Sen. Mike Gierau, D-Jackson, reduced those funds to $2.5 million each.

After passing through the Senate Appropriations Committee, HB 119 will now go to the Senate floor for up to three readings before it could be considered by Gov. Mark Gordon.


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