CASPER, Wyo. — The group studying options for a state health insurance exchange is still wrestling with the most fundamental question it must answer: Would an exchange, an online marketplace where consumers could shop for insurance, work in Wyoming?
Lawmakers in March directed the Wyoming Health Benefits Exchange Steering Committee to stop its work until after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act. The health reform law requires states to operate exchanges by 2014.
The Supreme Court upheld the law last month. Committee members are researching options for exchanges, as well as seeking more details from federal officials. However, they have not begun the process of actually developing a program, said Rep. Elaine Harvey, who chairs the committee.
“We are not doing the nuts and bolts of how to set up an exchange,” said the Lovell Republican. “We are asking questions about if an exchange is appropriate for Wyoming. And if it is, what parts are good for us, and what parts do we leave behind?”
The committee has been studying the issue for more than a year. It hasn’t formally reconvened since the Supreme Court ruling, nor does the group have any meetings scheduled.
Despite the lack of meetings, group members are in “fact-finding mode,” said Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper. They are trying to determine whether an exchange can be sustainable in Wyoming without hurting the existing insurance market.
A 2011 actuarial study indicated that insurance premiums in the individual market could increase by 30 to 40 percent due to new insurance regulations under the health reform law.
Wyoming could opt out of running an exchange. However, the federal government has promised to run programs on behalf of states that don’t comply.
The federal government has given states until November to decide how to proceed.
The committee is also seeking more details from the federal government. Some members have expressed frustration with federal officials for not providing certain information that states need to develop a program, such as a list of benefits that all companies on the exchange will need to offer.
“Over the past two years, we’ve really felt like we’ve been shooting at moving targets,” Landen said.
The group is expected to deliver its recommendation to lawmakers this fall. That would give the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee time to craft bills before next year’s session.
That committee has enough information to write legislation that would get an exchange running, said Chairman Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper. But that doesn’t mean it will actually draft a bill.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act if he’s elected. If Romney wins, Scott — a critic of “Obamacare” — said he doesn’t see the point of writing the legislation.
“I don’t think you could pass it,” he said. “And I don’t think you should.”
Harvey and Landen aren’t limiting their work to exchanges. They’ve also examined possible interstate compacts that would create larger risk pools, and theoretically, lower prices for consumers. Those compacts could be developed alongside, or independently, of an exchange, Harvey said.