The Wyoming GOP listed its three top priorities during our most recent legislative session as eliminating “party raiding” in primaries, requiring that the weight and gestation of aborted fetuses be recorded in a public record and defeating a bill to raise state revenue through a retail tax. As the Wyoming GOP contemplates the next legislative session, based on my conversations with hundreds of Wyomingites, I’d like to suggest they consider affordable health care as their next legislative priority.
Our country ranks dead last in health care costs among all developed countries, but the good news is that there is much a state can do if our politicians are willing to absorb short-term political heat in order to secure our state’s social and economic future.
We made things worse in 2016 when our U.S. Congress punted on comprehensive health insurance reform and instead settled only for eliminating the individual mandate. While Congress solved a short-term financial problem for some Wyomingites, they lit the fuse on a health care time bomb that will create an economic catastrophe for our state in the coming decade. Here’s why.
Wyoming ranks between 44th and 49th place in affordable health insurance, where, for example, our premiums run 37 percent to 59 percent higher than in nearby Idaho or Nebraska. As a result, Wyoming has one of the highest uninsured rates in the country, ranking in the bottom five nationally. Whether it be the 25-year-old man I spoke with in Gillette who served meals at Subway and faced an unrealistic $7,000 annual premium, or the National Guardsman I spoke with in Cheyenne whose insurance plan would not cover the necessary treatment for his son’s brain tumor, their predicament underscores a problem far too many Wyoming families face when it comes to affording critical health care.
Our crisis goes beyond just those who cannot afford any insurance. There is an even greater number of Wyomingites that are only able to purchase catastrophic insurance. For these people, every trip to the dentist, pharmacist or doctor is an out of pocket expense.
As a result, many are foregoing routine preventative care, and this represents both a social and an economic time bomb for our state. As more and more Wyomingites ration their preventative care, chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes that could be cured or controlled if detected early go untreated, leaving families needlessly devastated.
Economically, the impact to our state will be felt in a worsening downward spiral as expensive late-state curative procedures replace preventative or early-stage interventions. If we don’t act soon, each year the total price of health care in our state will rise, putting increasing pressure on the price of health insurance, making insurance less affordable for even more families. The crisis before us only deepens as the population of Wyoming ages at a rate 20 percent greater than the rest of the country.
Other states have recognized Congress’ continued ineffectiveness and have taken matters into their own hands. For example, Arkansas and Tennessee have shown promising cost reductions using Episode-Based Payment (EBP), which creates an incentive for health care providers to control costs.
Likewise, Maryland successfully implemented a Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) waiver program that shifts incentives to hospitals to control costs and has saved the state more than $500 million in the first three and a half years.
Under the leadership of former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, Massachusetts now offers one of the lowest deductibles in the country while keeping premiums at the national average. Minnesota, California and Hawaii are other states that have taken proactive measures to reduce health care expenses, lowering premiums and deductibles for their residents.
I’m not suggesting we necessarily adopt any of these specific models. Instead, I list them to demonstrate that other states have not waited for Congress to take action. Given our dire situation, neither should Wyoming. Until our Senate and U.S. House of Representatives musters the statesmanship to forego short-term political gain and demonstrate a willingness to consider all good solutions, regardless of partisan advantage, our Wyoming Legislature must fill the void left by the U.S. Congress.
Health care reform is complex and requires political courage. But from my conversations with hundreds of Wyomingites across our state, there is no better priority for the Wyoming GOP to champion than lowering the cost of health care for our families so that basic health care in our state can become affordable to any hard-working person.