Amid federal reform, Wyoming governor moves forward with health agenda

2013-01-03T23:45:00Z Amid federal reform, Wyoming governor moves forward with health agendaBy JOSHUA WOLFSON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 03, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — Even as federal health care reform takes hold in Wyoming, Gov. Matt Mead continues to pursue his own health agenda, which promotes electronic records and physician practices focused on value over volume.

The governor first described the strategy more than a year ago, when it appeared the Affordable Care Act might be blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court or a Republican in the White House. Neither of those scenarios played out, but Mead’s initiatives can still work alongside the federal reform law, said Elizabeth Hoy, his health care policy adviser.

“I don’t think any of it is precluded,” she said. “Making sure we have accurate information that follows patients, that’s a need that continues regardless of the ACA.”

Mead wants a health care system that rewards providers based performance rather than patient volume. He is a proponent of electronic records and of medical homes, a kind of physician practice that uses a team of providers and encourages preventive care.

“It’s kind of a foundational strategy,” Hoy said.

The governor included $250,000 in his last budget to support the expansion of medical homes in Wyoming and has requested the same amount in his latest proposal. There are now 25 practices around the state working to become formally recognized as medical homes.

Medical homes have the potential to reduce health costs and create better outcomes for patients, Hoy said. They free doctors to see more patients by delegating some tasks to nurses, case managers and other providers. Physicians remain in contact with their patients, reminding them to stay current on tests that can catch problems before they become serious.

The medical home model fits nicely within a federal health reform landscape that rewards physicians for how well they practice, said Dr. Brent Sherard, medical director of the Wyoming Integrated Care Network.

“In order to be able to be reimbursed on quality, you have to show that you are performing quality medicine,” he said.

Mead also supports the use of technology to make the health care system more efficient. With help from a nonprofit group, the state has been working on a system designed to make it easier for physicians to share patient information. Records will follow patients wherever they seek treatment, eliminating duplicate tests.

In the past year, the health information exchange began one-way secure messaging that allows doctors to share records through email. Hoy expects the system to expand this year.

Under the Mead administration, state agencies involved with health care have begun working together to address common issues, said Wyoming Health Department Director Tom Forslund. The Health Department has also begun an ambitious program to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program.

The Legislature will consider a bill tied to the reform program during the session set to begin next week.

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