Wyoming legislators might take another two years before deciding whether to participate in health insurance exchange, a key Senate Republican said Friday.

Legislators have already spent the better part of two years studying exchanges — virtual marketplaces where consumers can shop for insurance. Now that the state has missed the federal deadline to run an program of its own, there’s no reason to rush into a decision, said Sen. Charles Scott, who is chairing a new committee studying exchanges.

Instead, lawmakers should learn from the experience of the federal exchange set to begin operating in Wyoming next year.

“Otherwise the probability we’ll screw it up ourselves is pretty high,” Scott said.

The federal health reform law known as Obamacare requires states to begin running exchanges in 2014. Federal officials promise to operate exchanges on behalf of states that don’t comply.

Scott doesn’t expect a final decision on exchanges before 2015 or even possibly a year after that.

“We walked away [from] the first one and I think we were wise too,” he said. “Now, it’s a long process, in part because it doesn’t make any sense to act until we’ve seen the actual experience of the feds trying to run an exchange.”

The Legislature created the exchange committee earlier this year. The group, which met for the first time Friday in Casper, is responsible for monitoring the federal exchange and recommending whether the state should eventually take over its operations.

It quickly became apparent at the meeting that, despite two years’ worth of state studies, lawmakers still have many

questions about the exchange, including the plans that will be sold on it. The committee, which is composed of six Republicans, expressed hostility toward the overall federal reform effort.

Committee Chairwoman Rep. Elaine Harvey said federal officials have been slow to share important information, even though the exchange is supposed to begin enrolling people in October. The Lovell Republican acknowledged feeling resentful that Wyoming was expected to participate in a program it can’t control.

“The expectation is we take on a role that we can’t even define,” she said.

Advocates for exchanges said the online marketplaces could make it easier for consumers to select and review insurance plans. They urged the committee to help an exchange succeed in Wyoming.

Anne Ladd, chief executive of the Wyoming Business Coalition on Health, said the program could be a boon to small businesses.

“I don’t think anybody thinks the current health care system is working,” she said.

The committee discussed plans to apply for a grant to hire a consultant who would assist Wyoming’s study of the federal exchange. Lawmakers need to know how well it’s performing, and how much it will cost before deciding what to do next, Scott said.

If the federal exchange is working well, the state could continue the status quo, he explained. But if legislators recognize problems that state officials would be better equipped to handle, they could take over.

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

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