Legislator wants new health insurance option

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A senior Wyoming state lawmaker announced Monday he will push to change state law to allow people who are losing health care coverage that doesn’t meet the standards of the federal Affordable Care Act to get state coverage.

Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig said last month that private insurers have given notice they intend to cancel over 3,000 policies in the state that don’t meet the requirements of the federal law.

Representatives of the two insurance companies that are offering federally approved health insurance coverage said last week that they’re seeing sharp increases in the number of people registering with them in recent weeks. The federal exchange, or Internet marketplace, experienced problems, including not allowing people to register after it opened in early October.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, is chairman of the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. He announced Monday he plans to introduce a bill in the legislative session that starts in February to allow people who are losing their policies to sign up for coverage under the Wyoming Health Insurance Pool. Since 1990, the pool has provided coverage to state residents who can’t get other insurance.

“That pool is exempt from Obamacare,” Scott said, using a term for the Affordable Care Act. He said he intends to sponsor a bill that would allow people who lose their insurance to get health coverage temporarily, until problems with the federal system are resolved.

“They’ll be able to come to the state uninsurable pool, and buy a product that is really just intended to be a stopgap until Washington can get its act together and fix the problems it’s caused,” Scott said. “And I think they will do that, because I don’t think they can live with what they’ve done. But being Washington, I bet it will take them a while.”

Scott said he expects the state could offer up to 1,000 new policies through the pool coverage. He said he hasn’t worked out exactly what the coverage would cost, but he expects it could call for low-income people to pay a small percentage of their incomes.

“I suspect we’ll put in a couple of million on the low-income subsidies,” Scott said, adding that he believes the state can afford it.

Republican Gov. Matt Mead, in his budget recommendations released this month, suggested state lawmakers not vote to accept federal funds to expand the Medicaid system to cover more than 17,000 low-income adults who don’t have any health insurance.

Scott said he sees basic problems with the Medicaid system and agrees the state shouldn’t accept the optional federal expansion.

“I don’t want any part in expanding the traditional Medicaid system,” Scott said. “I think it’s bad for the people involved. Whether it’s the federal or state government, we’re all taxpayers, and I think it costs a lot more than it should.”

The Wyoming Department of Health has concluded that Medicaid expansion would save the state money — provided the federal government follows through on promised funding — by relieving pressure on other programs.

Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, serves on the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. She said Monday that she needs to review Scott’s proposal to expand the insurance pool before developing an opinion.

Throne said she is committed to expanding the Medicaid system and intends to push it in the coming legislative session if the health committee itself won’t sponsor the effort.

“I think we should do that regardless of whatever else we want to do to help people get coverage in Wyoming,” she said.

Rep. Lee Filer, D-Cheyenne, also serves on the health committee. He said Monday that he favors expanding Medicaid.

Filer said he views opposition to the expansion as strictly political, saying 90 percent of the people who would get insurance under the expansion are working. “They’re already paying into this system that they’re not able to use,” he said.

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