Health Care Experts: What The Affordable Care Act Could Mean for Wyoming

Jul 27, 2012

Host Intro: Healthcare experts gathered in Jackson this week to spell out what the Supreme Court ruling about the Affordable Care Act could mean for patients in Wyoming. Rebecca Huntington has more...

REBECCA HUNTINGTON: About a hundred people attended the talk, which was held in a classroom at St. John's Medical Center.

GARY TRAUNER: I think a lot of people still don't know what's in the law itself what's available to them. And what the ramifications might be of the law being approved by the Supreme Court and therefore being the law of the land. And how they might take advantage of it.

HUNTINGTON: That's Gary Trauner, the Chief Operating Officer for St. John's. He told the crowd that one benefit of the new law is that it requires insurance companies to make preventive services free.

TRAUNER: So you can go in and you can get a colonoscopy or a mammogram or another preventive service with no copayment, for free, and your insurance has to pay for that. That's a significant change from the past.

HUNTINGTON: Also speaking was Katherine Swartz, a professor of health policy and economics at the Harvard School of Public Health. She is the author of "Reinsuring Health: Why More Middle-Class People Are Uninsured and What Government Can Do." She also has researched how to implement the Affordable Care Act.

KATHERING SWARTZ: So I think one big misconception is this is going to cost us all a lot more money and in fact there are a lot of savings that are called for in the law... We're already paying for a lot of care provided to people who don't have health insurance and this is going to shift that around and there are savings that are projected to come out of this, on the order of somewhere between $124 and 400 billion decline in deficit by 2020.

HUNTINGTON: Swartz says that the health care law will not only save the federal government money but also offers incentives to make the delivery of health care cheaper. For example, the law offers money to states to upgrade medical records, making them electronic, which she says would be more efficient. But so far, she says Wyoming hasn't taken advantage of those kinds of incentives. Wyoming could also receive federal funding to set up a consumer assistance program to help citizens understand the new law.

One in four people in Teton County lack health insurance … and Swartz says the healthcare law gives those people a choice.

SWARTZ: They have a choice of whether or not they want to obtain coverage or pay a penalty, which is relatively modest.

HUNTINGTON: She adds that there are exemptions for lower income individuals.

There are still several unknowns about the new law though. First, we don’t know exactly what kinds of private insurance individuals or small businesses will be able to buy. That’s up to each state to decide. Wyoming still needs to decide whether it will set up its own private health care exchange or remain on the sidelines and let the federal government do it for them. She says that if Wyoming takes the reins, it could join with other states to create an exchange that gives consumers more options.

And St. John's new CEO, Lou Hochheiser, says there are other uncertainties, some of which keep him up at night.  

LOU HOCHHEISER: What we haven't done is tackle the issue of how we get rid of unnecessary services. So there's a lot of money in health care...there are MRIs and CT scans and prostate cancer treatments that cost five times as much as the other prostate cancer treatments that don't make things any better that we haven't said we're going to make sure we take those costs out of the system so we can pay for the expansion.

HUNTINGTON: Hochheiser says the hospital will continue to keep the community informed as officials figure out the rest of the nuts and bolts surrounding the new law.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Huntington.