Silver hair, silver dollars: Wyoming's aging population means big spending for the state

Should the Cowboy State be renamed the Silver State? Wyoming's overall population grew by just 2.5% between 2010 and 2021, but its population over 65 soared to over 47 percent in the same time frame, according to a health aging data report by the University of Wyoming and UMass Boston.

As more residents age, the cost of care will increase. with Medicaid Long-Term Care costs in Wyoming expected to rise from $125 million at the time of the report to $260 million by 2040, according to a 2023 Wyoming Department of Health report,

“As we are getting a larger and larger proportion of our population in the older categories, then obviously they’re gonna need more healthcare. And it’s really critical that we get them all insured,” said Virginia Vicenti, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Wyoming. “It’s not like it’s free if you don’t cover them. Because then they go to emergency rooms when they could have gotten preventative care that isn’t as expensive as emergency care. And that’s spread out over everybody else.”

A 2023 American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey of Wyomingites aged 45+ showed 89% of respondents ranked being able to afford health care expenses as an important issue.

More: Most of us want to live to 100. Wait until you hear how much that retirement costs.

According to the Department of Health report, the rise in these expenses is pushed by a host of factors, including Wyoming’s aging population, the expense of long-term care, increasing levels of chronic disease, fewer working-age adults per elderly Wyomingite, and people’s increasing inability to pay for these costs independently.

Franz Fuchs, senior policy analyst at the Wyoming Department of Health, says that while adapting to the aging population will be a challenge, it is not an issue that is hitting the state by surprise.

“It’s kind of like when an anaconda swallows an elephant or something – you can see the bulge move through the snake over time. It’s predictable. We can see it coming,” Fuchs said. “And so we’ve used that to predict how our long-term care levels will increase.”

Policymakers across the Cowboy State—and the rest of the nation—are looking for measures to reduce the cost of long-term care. This includes incentivizing at-home care, which has an average cost per month of $1,871 versus nursing care, which has an average cost of $4,931, according to a 2023 AARP and University of Wyoming Report.

“Surveys have shown again and again that that’s where people want to age as they get older. The good news is that the least expensive option is in fact, the one that has people’s hearts at this point,” Lacock said.

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Cy Neff is a politics reporting fellow based in Wyoming for USA Today. You can reach him at, or on X, formerly known as Twitter, @CyNeffNews

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wyoming's getting older but who pays for care?