health care

WINhealth To Leave Wyoming

Oct 21, 2015

The health insurance company WINhealth will be pulling out of Wyoming. 

A variety of financial difficulties including low reimbursement via the Affordable Care Act is causing the company to leave Wyoming at the end of the year. Insurance Commissioner Tom Glause says the state will take over management of the company and make sure its financial obligations are taken care of.       

“Do not panic, your claims will continue to be processed and paid and we will assist in an orderly transition of those policies to another carrier.” 

Gonorrhea Cases Double

Jul 22, 2015

Wyoming health officials say they are seeing a gonorrhea outbreak. They had 61 reported cases earlier this month compared to a total of 31 last year. Half of the cases involve people in their 20’s.

The Director of the state’s communicable disease surveillance program, Courtney Smith, says the problem is that couples are not using condoms. 

Courtesy Annie E. Casey Foundation

Wyoming has improved in national child well-being rankings over the past year, but still ranks very low when it comes to child health. That’s according the Kids Count Data Book released Tuesday by the Annie. E Casey Foundation.

Wyoming saw improvements in economic well-being, education and family & community concerns—and rose from 19th to 16th place overall in the annual rankings. But the Cowboy State still ranks 45th in the nation for child health.

Wyoming residents are being asked to discuss ways cancer can be better detected and treated at a meeting today in Casper. 

Julie Tarbuck oversees Wyoming’s Comprehensive Cancer Control Program. Tarbuck says they are developing the next State Cancer Control plan and they want to develop new ways to address everything from diagnosis to quality of life.

She says overcoming the challenges faced by those in rural parts of the state remains an issue. For instance, Tarbuck says the lack of health care providers makes detection difficult.         

Wyoming Business Coalition On Health

An upcoming conference in Casper aims to address the high cost of health care for employers. “Victim to Victor – Taking Control of Your Healthcare Spending” is sponsored by the Wyoming Business Coalition on Health, and intends to educate businesses on how they can more efficiently manage health care costs.

Anne Ladd is the CEO of the coalition. She says the conference will elaborate on tools employees can use to make the most of their health care plans. It will also clarify for employers what drives health care costs.

Wyoming's Governor and Congressional delegation have been fighting to dismantle the Affordable Care Act for years.

But with Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling ruling “Obamacare” looks stronger than ever.

Wyoming Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne of Cheyenne says that might force state legislators to finally start talking about how they could work with federal healthcare policy.

Wyoming hospitals are breathing a sigh of relief following Thursday’s United States Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

The ruling allows 20,000 Wyoming residents to keep their subsidies to purchase health insurance via the federal Marketplace.

Wyoming Hospital Association president Eric Boley says, if the ruling had gone the other way, state hospitals would have seen a dramatic uptick in uncompensated care. But Wyoming hospitals are still facing imminent financial challenges.

Pharmacists are currently not recognized as health care providers and despite their obvious knowledge of medications, they are not currently allowed to help people manage their medication. There are two bills in Congress that could change that. Tom Menighan is the CEO of the American Pharmacists Association and he say this would help those in rural areas.

Bob Beck

Earlier this year when the legislature voted down Medicaid expansion, lawmakers realized that some hospitals were struggling to make up for the fact that some people cannot afford to pay their medical bills.  So after a lot of discussion, they provided roughly three million dollars to be spread among the smaller rural hospitals. But some thought that was not enough, so two legislative committees are looking into what else can be done to help. 

Wyoming’s decision to not set up a set health care marketplace could haunt it if the United States Supreme Court rules that federal marketplaces or exchanges cannot receive federal subsidies. The King vs. Burwell case could impact close to 20 thousand Wyoming residents, especially the 17 thousand who would lose subsidies to purchase insurance. 

Laramie’s Ivinson Memorial Hospital is considering an expansion that could lead to a new Internal Medicine Building among other things. 

Hospital CEO Doug Faus said the expansion also could include the Jeannie Ray Cancer Center, parking areas, and space for University of Wyoming Medical students who are part of the WWAMI  program. The biggest priority is the Internal Medicine building. Faus says a better facility will help recruit and keep doctors.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

The Wyoming Legislature has approved a bill that is intended to help hospitals in the state cover costs for patients who cannot afford to pay for health care. 

After lawmakers rejected the $100 million a year in federal funds that would have come from Medicaid Expansion, this was viewed as a last ditch attempt to help hospitals. But opponents say the bill just throws money at the problem.

Senate Labor and Health Committee Chairman Charles Scott says the two and a half million dollars in the bill will help some of the small hospitals in the state.

The open enrollment period to sign up for health insurance starts November 15 and runs through February 15. That gives customers a short three-month window to sign up. There will not be another chance to enroll again until next November. Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig says a wide range of Wyoming residents qualify for government aid to help pay for the health insurance.

“That’s kind of the range,” he says. “A single person making $12,000 to, say, a family of four making $100,000. So as you can well imagine that encompasses a vast majority of the population of Wyoming.”

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead says the federal agencies in charge of Medicaid are open to innovative expansion proposals. He says that could convince legislators to adopt a Medicaid Expansion program in Wyoming. The proposal the state is working on would require those eligible for the program to contribute to it. 

While Wyoming residents strongly oppose the Affordable Care Act, residents are supportive of expanding Medicaid to provide health care to those who cannot afford it. A University of Wyoming election year survey conducted in mid - August found that only 24 percent of state residents approve of the Affordable Care Act, while 70 percent oppose it.  

University of Wyoming Political Scientist Jim King says people have a different opinion about Medicaid expansion.

During the last two elections Wyoming Republicans campaigned on repealing and replacing so-called Obamacare – but House Republicans have yet to vote on a replacement. Matt Laslo has a look from Washington on the debate dividing Republicans in Congress.

Credit Raif via Flickr

The Cheyenne Regional Medical Center will try to cut seventeen million dollars from its budget over the next two years.

"We are seeing decreased revenues coming from Medicare," says Jason Schenefield, Chief Operating Officer for Cheyenne Regional, as to why the cuts are necessary. "And things such as that which is really having us, along with hospitals around the country, trying to find ways of saving costs with declined revenues."

Schenefield also says decreased inpatient admissions is causing declining revenues.

Wyoming ranks 16th in the nation when it comes to meeting the long term health care needs of older residents.  The ranking comes from a comprehensive state by state scorecard developed by AARP, the Commonwealth fund, and SCAN foundation. 

In Wyoming unpaid family caregivers provide the bulk of care for older Wyoming residents, in part because long term care is unaffordable for most middle income families.  AARP Wyoming’s Associate Director Tim Lockwood says things aren’t all that bad in the state, but they could be better.

There is an increase in measles cases across the U-S and it has federal health officials worried.

They say measles is being transmitted by international travelers and is infecting those who do not have a measles vaccination.  Wyoming Department of Health spokesman Kim Deti said state officials are monitoring the situation.

“In Wyoming we haven’t had a case reported since 2010.  What seems to be different here than everywhere else?  Well, the real truth is…we’ve been lucky.”

UCD School of Medicine & Medical Science via Flickr Creative Commons

St. John’s Medical Center in Jackson is hiring several new surgeons and doctors to join the public hospital’s physician group.  It will be the first time the hospital has directly employed surgeons. 

St. John’s CEO Lou Hochheiser says the new hires are needed to meet demand in the area.

“A year and a half ago, we had 4 and a half surgeons in this community,” Hochheiser said. “We have lost two and a half of those surgeons, leaving us with two. Therefore, it was the hospital’s responsibility to make sure that gap was filled.”

Lawmakers finishing up work on the state budget have accepted a compromise amendment that encourages the Governor and other members of state government to figure out a way to expand Medicaid under Wyoming terms. 

Conference Committee members accepted a version of a House amendment that now says the state may work with federal officials on an expansion plan, as long as Medicaid Expansion doesn't harm Wyoming businesses.  Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center credits the public for convincing lawmakers to do something.

A bill that would change the way the state handles those who may need to be hospitalized due to mental illness was defeated by the Wyoming Senate. 

Right now, a Judge needs to rule on involuntary commitment within 72 hours of a person being detained. The bill allowed a medical professional to require someone to be hospitalized and receive treatment immediately.  A court hearing would later determine if someone should be held longer. 

Senator Larry Hicks told the Senate that approach violates due process.

The State Senate easily defeated a proposed budget amendment that would expand Medicaid Services in the state by a vote of 21 to 9.  Laramie Democrat Chris Rothfuss says it’s a chance to bring health care to over 17 thousand people in the state.  Senate Health and Labor Chairman Charles Scott continued his opposition to Medicaid expansion by saying that it will encourage people to over utilize health care.  Rothfuss says his proposal actually would address that.

Wyoming Democratic Party leaders have criticized Governor Matt Mead for opposing a full Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. There are over 17,000 low-income adults in the state and State Democratic Party Chairman Pete Gosar says it's not right to oppose the expansion, since Mead isn’t proposing another option.

At a press conference last week, Mead said that on that count, Gosar is right.

No action taken on Medicaid proposals

Nov 6, 2013

The Legislature’s Joint Health and Labor Committee took no action on three bills that would address expanding Medicaid Services in the state. 

The committee will vote on the legislation in January, although a pilot project that would provide Medicaid expansion on the Wind River Reservation was assigned to another committee that deals with Native American issues.  

Despite the supposedly high-tech new health insurance marketplaces, it turns out the best way to sign up is in person.

Enroll Wyoming is trying to help people do that. Dialing 2-1-1 will get you to a referral line with information about where to enroll. 

But if you’re calling to try and get help navigating the federal website, you’re out of luck, according to Sara Loken, who works for 2-1-1.

Oklahoma Policy Institute

Starting October first, Wyomingites will be able to go online and shop for medical insurance coverage from the participating providers in the state’s insurance marketplace.

Under the healthcare marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act, Wyomingites will be able to choose from about 16 plans, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. The average premium for the cheapest, medium-coverage plan will be $489 per month. That’s the most expensive in the country.

Study looks at obesity in pregnant women

Sep 18, 2013

A University of Wyoming researcher has received one-point-five million dollars from the National Institutes of Health to study obesity in pregnant women. 

The N-I-H says 30 percent of women are overweight or obese when they conceive and remain so throughout pregnancy.  The belief is this impacts their children and grandchildren.  U-W Researcher Steven Ford runs the U-W Center for the Study of Fetal Programming.  He says this could have long term health ramifications.  

To comply with the Affordable Care Act, Wyoming lawmakers still have to determine whether they want to provide more health insurance to people who cannot afford it, and what such a plan would look like. 

The legislature soundly defeated a proposal to expand the current Medicaid program, so the Wyoming Department of Health has pitched a new proposal where people could purchase a scaled-down version of Medicaid Insurance. 

Department Director Tom Forslund said that users would have to participate like consumers who have private insurance.