Wyo. health insurance exchange questions remain

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The federal government stands ready next week to open an Internet site offering health insurance to Wyoming residents under the federal Affordable Care Act, but key players in the state say they still have questions.

Wyoming is among 36 states in which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to launch health insurance exchanges on Oct. 1. The public may start purchasing insurance through the exchanges beginning in January.

The federal agency released information on rates this week showing Wyoming will face some of the highest premiums in the nation.

Federal officials say that nationally, for a family of four making $50,000 a year, the average monthly premium for a “silver” plan would be $774. In Wyoming, that rate would be $1,237, but tax credits for eligible insurance shoppers could bring the cost down.

Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig said higher rates are predictable because it’s more expensive to provide health care in a sparsely populated state. Wyoming is the least-populated state with a population of around 560,000.

“I think Wyoming struggles being such a rural state with no large metropolitan centers,” he said.

Health care becomes more affordable in areas where there’s more competition among providers, he said.

While federal officials have yet to say which insurance companies will offer coverage in Wyoming through the exchange, Hirsig said he believes it will include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming and WINhealth.

Wendy Curran, senior director of care delivery and coordination for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming, said Wednesday her company plans to continue offering coverage in the state.

Curran said she agrees a number of factors lead to higher rates in Wyoming. She pointed to full-service hospitals being available in many communities along with assisted-living nursing homes.

“We have a robust health care system, and those are not inexpensive,” Curran said.

Hirsig said he’s concerned that misunderstandings about the program could leave Wyoming residents open to scam artists. He said no one should pay to enroll in the exchange, and residents should make sure they’re on the proper site before entering any personal information.

The federal government has entered contracts with two entities in the state to provide public training on how to navigate the new system. Officials at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and Riverton-based Wyoming Senior Citizens, Inc., say they intend to step up outreach after the exchange starts running.

Curran said her company is bracing for difficulties when the system goes online Oct. 1.

“I know that everyone is working in high gear to make sure that things are working,” Curran said. “I don’t think the roll-out will probably go smoothly, just because of the magnitude of the project, but we’ll find out as we move along.”

Carol Garcia, intergovernmental affairs specialist with Health and Human Services in Denver, said the agency expects no problems in starting the exchange next week.

“Everything I’m hearing from D.C., is we’re fine, we’re ready to go,” she said.

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