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Wyoming lawmakers favor more study on health exchange

Pending bill would require Legislature's approval

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State lawmakers voted Tuesday to draft legislation that would give a group another year to study ways to develop a health insurance exchange.

The Joint Labor Health and Social Services Committee directed its staff to include a provision in the bill that would prevent anyone but the Legislature from committing Wyoming to operate a federal insurance exchange before April 2013.

“We want to make sure there is no enthusiasm in the executive branch for getting us committed to doing something,” said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, who authored the legislation.

The provision would also make the bill easier to sell to lawmakers when the Legislature convenes in January, Scott said.

The committee, which met in Casper, voted unanimously to draft the legislation. It will decide in December whether to introduce the bill during the upcoming legislative session.

Wyoming must submit its plan for an exchange by January 2013 or the federal government will move to operate a program on the state’s behalf. Scott’s provision wouldn’t prevent Gov. Matt Mead from submitting a plan for an exchange. But the plan would still require approval from lawmakers in the 2013 Legislative session.

Insurance exchanges are marketplaces where small businesses and individuals can compare health care premiums and buy coverage. They are a key part of the federal health reform law and are viewed as a way to provide coverage to more people.

Earlier this year, the Legislature tasked the Wyoming Health Benefits Exchange Steering Committee with examining various options for an exchange. In a preliminary report last month, the group recommended pursuing a state-run exchange that possibly shares some functions with other states.

Mead strongly supports the committee’s recommendations, according to a letter he wrote to lawmakers. If the federal government operates an exchange for Wyoming, the state would cede substantial authority over the individual and small business insurance markets, according to the governor.

Scott’s provision doesn’t exclude Wyoming from committing to a state exchange without legislative approval. But lawmakers would still have final say on a Wyoming-run program because they control the state’s purse strings, said Sen. John Schiffer, R-Kaycee.

The legislation would prevent Wyoming from committing to an exchange before the U.S. Supreme Court rules on legal challenges to the federal reform law.

A final decision would also come after the 2012 presidential election. All Republican presidential candidates have indicated they support repeal of the reform law.

Contact Joshua Wolfson at 307-266-0582 or at josh.wolfson@trib.com.

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