Legislature pursues healthcare exchange on its own schedule

Dec 10, 2011

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BOB BECK (Host): A health insurance exchange is a set of state-regulated and standardized health care plans, from which individuals may purchase health insurance that is eligible for Federal subsidies.  The idea is to make it easier for businesses and individuals to go on-line and find insurance that might work for them.  Federal law says all exchanges must be fully certified and operational by January 1, 2014. If states don’t create them, the federal government will run it.  The feds will also determine if a state is set to run an exchange by January first of 2013.  But Wyoming’s Joint Health and Labor committee has submitted a bill to keep anyone, including the governor from setting up an exchange before April of 2013.  Despite that move, many lawmakers still think an exchange might be a good idea. 

STEVE LOFTIN: It’s something that I spend days and days and days on.  Because actually health insurance has become a big part of my business expense.

BECK: That’s Businessman Steve Loftin of 71 Construction in Casper telling the legislature’s Joint Health and Labor committee that a health exchange would help a number of small businesses in Wyoming.  Loftin is not necessarily in favor of the federal health care law.

LOFTIN: We feel like we are in Jurassic Park, and there is this huge pile of poop and we are digging through it.  And we find these little things that we can use out of this Obama Care and I think a health exchange is one of those little pieces we find.

BECK: Loftin says the ability to find insurance that might have a rating associated with it would be a great benefit for the state.  That’s at least part of the goal of an exchange.  As state consultant Christian Jones explains, it should make things easier.

CHRISTIAN JONES: The idea was that a health insurance exchange was like a farmers market.  You can go to one place and find a host of different offerings.

BECK: Representative Elaine Harvey is sold.  She co-chairs the Joint Health and Labor committee.

ELAINE HARVEY: I think it is about the most organized way to look at buying insurance that I’ve ever seen.  And that was the first hook that drew my attention,  I said, I think we should look at this.

BECK: Standing outside a recent hearing on a Wyoming insurance exchange, Harvey noted that the biggest challenge is what a state run plan would look like.  She notes that many legislators are interested in an exchange that is separate from the federal health care law known as the affordable care act.  The state of Utah went ahead and developed its own exchange.  But there are questions. Insurance costs would likely go up, because there will be a new set of standards every provider will have to follow, so should the state provide the same subsidies to those with low incomes, the federal government was prepared to provide?  Senator John Schiffer is a traditionally conservative spender.  But he’d be willing to support spending more if the state could realize some other savings.

JOHN SCHIFFER: If we move more people into an insurance coverage they can afford.  What we are doing is probably diminishing, I hope, the amount of calls on emergency care for hospitals, the unfunded care they are having to provide.  Gee, if a person’s insured, you have solved that problem.

BECK: While other states are racing to get an exchange plan together by the start of next year, committee members say they have too many unanswered questions.  Jackson Representative Keith Gingery says they’ve decided it’s ok if they are behind, as long as they craft a good plan.

GINGERY: It’s such a difficult thing, because you look at one part of it and it’s a domino effect to other parts.  So we are trying very hard to understand it right now.  So I think right now where we are act is getting educated on the issue fully and I don’t see us making any policy decisions, this particular year.

BECK: The committee recommended that the full legislature support delaying the start of any plan till at least April of 2013.  That gives the committee time to craft a Wyoming plan and to also see what the courts and congress eventually do to the federal health care law.  It also would keep the governor from moving ahead with his own approach.  But many on the committee say they do want to keep working on the plan, but they’d like to do this without federal involvement.