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Lawmakers Look To Decrease Health Care Costs

Bob Beck

A Wyoming legislative committee has quietly put together a series of bills that is looking at the high cost of health care in the state as well as making health care more accessible. At a recent meeting of the legislature's Health and Labor Committee, Senator Charles Scott stated that consumers pay a lot for health care in the state.

"Wyoming's cost for private insurance is among the most expensive in the country and the discussion this morning is that we were second in insurance costs in the exchange. That's not a position we need to be in."

Some say the reason Wyoming insurance costs are high is because the state has an older population and older people have more health needs. Another dilemma is that Wyoming's small population means the sicker people can drive up costs for everyone. Senator Fred Baldwin of Kemmerer said the problem needs to be fixed.

"You know everyone acknowledges that with the increase in insurance costs and the increase in premiums that we've pushed so many people out of being able to have insurance."

The committee approved a bill that would give the Wyoming Department of Insurance the ability to develop a plan where they would use state and federal money to help pay for the insurance of people who have more expensive health care needs. They believe that would reduce the premiums for the state's healthy population. But the other part of the problem is that health care costs in Wyoming are high, especially when it comes to hospital care.

"We were eighth in the nation on hospital costs and they're 48 percent of the total health care costs that Wyoming residents incur," said Scott.

He added that the national average is around 38 percent. To address the situation the committee has crafted a comprehensive bill that will take a deep dive into health care costs, Scott wants to especially look at hospitals.

"And we're trying to understand that and understand it with data because otherwise it's competing anecdotes and you can sort em out. Trying to figure out what's wrong and what can we do about it as a practical matter."

Eric Boley heads up the Wyoming Hospital Association. He said he welcomes the study, but says costs of care are not out of line.

"I have facilities that are operating negative margins. The only way they stay in existence is the tax revenues coming in, we are not flush with money."

Boley points out that other states in the region expanded Medicaid and he suggests that's why they're doing much better financially. He says that needs to be part of the study.

"If we're going to take a look at the cost of health care, cost shifting and all of that, expansion should be included in this to see what type of impact it would have had."

The committee agreed and added it in. Jackson Representative Mike Gireau thinks support for expansion is growing in the state and is pleased they are looking at it. He said they need some facts.

"All these numbers get thrown around, we left a half a billion dollars on the table, or there's people trying to game the system. Well let's find out, let's take a comprehensive look at what it would be like in Wyoming."

Gireau said legislators have noticed that surrounding states have decided to expand.

One other issue the committee wants to look at is why 24 percent of Wyoming residents get their health care needs out of state. Boley said insurance companies have pushed some patients out of state when it isn't necessary.

"If we continue to direct this care out of state all we are doing is we are driving costs up for those who need it in a critical situation."

The committee is also looking at ways to make health care more accessible via things such as telehealth. Representative Gireau said they are doing all they can to finally get a handle on the insurance and overall costs that are hurting the state. The full legislature will consider the legislation in January.

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