The Obama administration’s decision to postpone a key part of the Affordable Care Act prompted state lawmakers Tuesday to delay advertising the federal health exchange that’s being developed for Wyoming.
The online insurance marketplace won’t be directly affected by the decision to delay until 2015 the requirement that companies provide health insurance for workers. But members of a legislative committee studying exchanges interpreted the slowdown as a sign the federal health reform law could fall apart.
Legislators prefer to see what happens with the law before promoting the new marketplace — which is designed to allow people to shop online for insurance like they do airline tickets. The marketplace will begin enrollment Oct. 1.
“I worry about the state taking ownership of a federal disaster, misleading people, and they drop coverage thinking the ACA is coming,” said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper. “And then the federal thing doesn’t work.”
Officials at the Wyoming Department of Insurance want to keep people informed about the law but share lawmaker’s concerns, said Stephanie McGee, the state’s deputy insurance commissioner.
“We don’t want to push somebody some place … when it could fall apart,” she said.
The comments came during a meeting of the Select Committee on Health Benefits Exchanges, which the Legislature established earlier this year after failing to meet federal deadlines to start a Wyoming-run marketplace. That failure resulted in a federal program run on the state’s behalf.
Committee members are studying whether to eventually take over some or all of the exchange. The state is planning to apply for a $1.8 million federal grant to help in that effort.
The grant includes $500,000 to educate people in Wyoming about the exchange. The program could serve some of the roughly 83,000 uninsured people in Wyoming, including people who lack coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
Outreach money could become available later this year, but committee members recommended officials hold off spending it until at least January. That would give state leaders more time to learn whether federal officials encounter additional problems implementing the Affordable Care Act.
“We have to be very careful with this federal blunder we are dealing with,” said Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper.
It would also allow officials to determine which populations are being overlooked by the advertising campaigns of other groups, Scott noted.
Others questioned the wisdom of waiting. Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, has been a frequent critic of the health reform law. But she said delaying outreach over concerns about the marketplace could result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“I think we are doing our uninsured population a disservice by not giving them an opportunity to sign up for insurance that is available to them,” she said.
More advertising could also alleviate confusion about the law, said Marguerite Herman of Project Health Care: Consumer Advocates, a Wyoming group that supports the federal reform law. A survey conducted this spring by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 40 percent of Americans were unaware the Affordable Care Act was still the law of the land.
“Information is not the enemy,” Herman said. “I think it is going to help.”