Lawmakers look outside Wyoming for insurance relief

2012-11-25T21:00:00Z 2013-01-15T22:17:17Z Lawmakers look outside Wyoming for insurance reliefBy JOSHUA WOLFSON Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

Hoping to address escalating health insurance costs, Wyoming legislators are exploring ways to make it easier for residents to buy policies from out-of-state companies.

Lawmakers have already drafted legislation that would allow Wyoming to accept policies approved in other states. A Natrona County representative recently authored a second bill to give state residents the ability to buy out-of-state insurance.

Conservative groups have promoted the sale of insurance across state lines as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Advocates say allowing such sales would result in lower costs for consumers through larger risk pools, competition and fewer regulatory burdens.

Wyoming needs innovative approaches to deal with rising health insurance prices, said Rep. Tom Reeder, who authored one of the bills.

“We just have to look at other ways because of the cost of insurance,” he said.

Others are skeptical the legislation will have a significant benefit. A study released last month found state-line legislation has been largely unsuccessful, in part, because it doesn’t affect the actual cost of health care — the primary driver of high insurance prices.

“If you live in Wyoming, you’ll pay Wyoming prices,” said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper. “The costs are higher here.”

Under existing law, a company based in another state must be licensed

before it can sell insurance in Wyoming. The company must also submit its policies to the state for approval. The process typically takes about 45 days and costs less than $1,000, said state Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig.

The new bills have the potential to cut wait times for businesses that would like to sell to Wyoming customers, he said.

Previous attempt

State lawmakers have already made one attempt to facilitate the sale of insurance across state lines. In 2010, the Legislature passed a bill directing then-Insurance Commissioner Ken Vines to approach other states about developing an interstate compact for insurance sales.

The commissioner found little interest, Hirsig said.

“We don’t have a lot to offer,” he said. “We have a low population. Most of our health care costs are higher than other states.”

The new bills take a different approach. Legislation already under consideration by the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee would allow the sale of insurance policies that have already been approved in other states.

The legislation would reduce the regulatory process for an outside insurance company that wants to operate in Wyoming, said Scott, the committee’s chairman. The companies would still need licenses, but wouldn’t have to wait as regulators approved policies that have already been accepted by other states.

“There is a potential for saving money from that process,” Scott said.

The bill might lower costs, but it probably won’t mean Wyoming residents will enjoy the lower insurance rates of neighboring states like Colorado. That’s because the costs of delivering health care are higher in Wyoming.

Medicare pays less for procedures in Wyoming, resulting in higher costs for patients, Scott said. The state has a shortage of some health care providers, which results in fewer discounts, and hasn’t enacted tort reform.

“The sale of insurance across state lines isn’t going to change that,” he said.

Larger pools

Other legislators are more optimistic. Reeder’s bill is designed to give Wyoming residents the opportunity to buy insurance that’s already being offered in other states.

Developing larger insurance pools would spread risk and lower costs, he said.

“A large portion of our current health care problems are the result of small risk pools confined to state borders that cause a lack of affordable health insurance, which in turn creates a lack of insurance coverage,” he explained.

However, a study released last month by the Center for Health Insurance Reforms found state lines legislation did not “address the true drivers of health insurance costs.”

The center studied legislation from six states — including the 2010 bill enacted in Wyoming. It found the bills were mostly unsuccessful because of the localized nature of health care and difficulties outside companies experience in attempting to build a provider network.

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com. Visit http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/wolfjammies to read his blog. Follow him on Twitter @joshwolfson.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(5) Comments

  1. mcfromkc
    Report Abuse
    mcfromkc - November 26, 2012 10:11 am
    high road, do you have any evidence to support your claim that malpractice lawsuits are a primary driver of healthcare costs in Wyoming? Research shows that states which have implemented tort reform, most notably texas and ohio, are not experiencing lower costs. More likely it is the profit-driven private health insurance industry that is pushing up costs.
  2. High Road
    Report Abuse
    High Road - November 26, 2012 7:59 am
    And not one word about the legislatures refusal to pass caps on malpractice lawsuits...a primary driver in Wyoming health care costs!
  3. rigrat
    Report Abuse
    rigrat - November 26, 2012 7:11 am
    "Conservative groups have promoted the sale of insurance across state lines as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Advocates say allowing such sales would result in lower costs for consumers through larger risk pools, competition and fewer regulatory burdens." What a crock of horse flop,where were all these phonies for so many years when rising costs were eating us up? Hypocrites...liars is more like.
  4. rgath
    Report Abuse
    rgath - November 26, 2012 6:48 am
    waste of time.
    the insurance companies bought their piece of the government long ago, and they are keeping up with the payments to washington by charging exorbitant, and rising, premiums.
    insurance company stockholders will get their dividends, insurance company CEOs will get their bonuses, and the little people will pay through higher insurance premiums.
    that's capitalism.
  5. dd ric
    Report Abuse
    dd ric - November 26, 2012 5:52 am
    your 3rd paragraph is conservative b.s.,and sooooo 3 years ago. Don't you find it uninformed and immature for this column to run now,when the dialogue for the ACA was years ago and the obtuse refused to participate in ANY discussions about health or insurance?? ddric
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