health care

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.

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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. http://www.cdc.gov/measles/

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.          

okpolicy.org

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.

The Northern Arapaho Tribe’s Housing Authority has received a $1.1 million Indian Community Development Block Grant. The competitive grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Grant administrator for the Northern Arapaho tribe, Patrick Goggles, says the money will be used for upgrades to the Fort Washakie Health Center on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

“It’ll expand the number of patient rooms and it’ll expand the amount of healthcare that it dispenses to the clientele on the reservation,” says Goggles.

The Wyoming Department of Health has come up with a plan meant to increase the number of people who can receive services because of developmental disabilities.


The department’s Chris Newman says they currently provide extensive services, including around-the-clock care, for many individuals. But the waiting list to get those services is long. Now, they want to start providing a more limited array of services to people with less acute cases.

Transparency is key for hospitals, doctor says

Jul 2, 2013

A doctor who will be speaking at the Renaissance Weekend in Jackson this week says transparency at hospitals can lead to better healthcare for patients. Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and author of Unaccountable, a book about hospital transparency, says the lack of transparency at many hospitals stems from both data and historical attitudes. 

St. John's Medical Center

More than 90 people gathered this week at the Teton County Library in Jackson to hear St. John's Medical Center CEO Dr. Lou Hochheiser explain health care reform.

Hochheiser told the crowd that as part of health care reform the federal government would be cutting what it pays hospitals to treat Medicaid and Medicare patients by five-to-25 percent. He said the goal is to use some of those savings to pay for expanding Medicaid coverage... essentially, paying less per patient in order to cover more people.

Protesters are gathering in Gillette this week to demonstrate against the Patriot Coal Company during Arch and Peabody Coal’s annual shareholder meetings. Patriot was formed in 2007 when Peabody unloaded its operations east of the Mississippi, along with its long-term health care obligations to some of its retirees. Arch formed a similar company, called Magnum, which was later acquired by Patriot along with another set of benefited retirees.  However, Patriot filed bankruptcy last summer, citing “substantial and unsustainable legacy costs.”

Protesters are gathering in Gillette this week to demonstrate against the Patriot Coal Company during Arch and Peabody Coal’s annual shareholder meetings. Patriot was formed in 2007 when Peabody unloaded its operations east of the Mississippi, along with its long-term health care obligations to some of its retirees. Arch formed a similar company, called Magnum, which was later acquired by Patriot along with another set of benefited retirees.  However, Patriot filed bankruptcy last summer, citing “substantial and unsustainable legacy costs.”

The University of Wyoming’s Fay Whitney School of Nursing has been chosen to participate in a $3 million initiative aimed at transforming nursing education.  The initiative is called the Future of Nursing State Implementation Program.  UW School of Nursing Dean Mary Burman says the effort is intended to address issues that include health care access, quality and cost.  Burman says in Wyoming, they will look at three key issues.

Flu season is starting earlier than usual in Wyoming. Department of Health Spokeswoman Kim Deti says February and March are usually the peak times for the illness, and it’s not clear why the season is starting early.

Deti says everyone over the age of six months should get a flu shot. She says the vaccines are not guaranteed to prevent getting the flu, but they’re the best protection available.

The Wyoming Department of Health is looking for medical professionals to volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps.

The Health Department’s Angelyn Mayes says Medical Reserve Corps volunteers do a variety of things to help local emergency responders: “A lot of them are used for fire rehab for the firefighters. We have some that assist with mental health for emergencies, when there are a lot of people that have some mental health issues from trauma or different things like that.”

A federal health official has high hopes that a health insurance exchange will help people get affordable health care insurance, even in Wyoming.  An exchange is an on-line marketplace where people can compare policies and costs. 

Mike Fierberg with the U-S Department of Health’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services notes that many worried that a similar effort, known as the Medicare Part D prescription drug program would suffer from a lack of competition.  He says that certainly has not been the case.

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.

Earlier this year the Wyoming legislature told the State Department of Health to study the rising costs of Medicaid and determine if the program can be changed.  

This week the Department will begin a series of meetings to see if members of the public have ideas on how the program can be both more efficient and improved.  Medicaid pays for the health care of low income people and those with disabilities.  Health Department Spokeswoman Kim Deti  says this is not just about trimming the budget.         

      Wyoming U-S Senator John Barrasso continues to hope that the U-S Supreme Court will toss out the entire Affordable Care Act and force Congress to develop a new health care overhaul.  

If that happened, some popular programs– including the ability for children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until the age of 26 – would go away.  During an appearance on FOX News, Barrasso said that would be part of any new legislation.

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