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Funds eliminated for Healthy Frontiers

Mar 8, 2012 - The Associated Press

CHEYENNE (AP) -- Supporters of a fledgling Wyoming program that offers health insurance to low-income people say state lawmakers didn't give it a fair trial before cutting funding this week. Some opponents, however, say it never should have gotten off the ground in the first place.

Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, is chairman of the Senate committee that considers health issues. He's worked for several years to establish Wyoming's Healthy Frontiers program with hopes of giving the state a cheaper alternative to soaring federal Medicaid costs.

"It's the waste of an awful lot of good work by an awful lot of good people," Scott said Wednesday of the decision not to extend Healthy Frontiers' funding.

"And it's a disappointment in that it says that we're refusing to recognize that there's a real problem with people who are working. They're perhaps a little below average in income. They're not making enough to afford health insurance. And they're just kind of hung right now," Scott said.

Healthy Frontiers enrolled its first participants last year and currently has about 105 participants. The state has put $500 into a health savings account for each participant to cover health expenses while capping the state's total exposure at $50,000 each.

The program has covered all a participant's costs of preventative care, including five physician visits, generic drugs and testing. It has covered up to 90 percent of other costs, such as hospitalizations and specialized care.

Scott, who had pushed to expand the program widely in Wyoming, said the idea is to keep people off Medicaid while also keeping them from racking up unnecessary emergency room visits. He said computer modeling showed the program could have shaved 35 percent off the cost of Medicaid services.

Lawmakers in both houses this week endorsed a conference committee agreement on the state budget that disallowed Healthy Frontiers from keeping roughly $1 million it had left over from its previous appropriation.

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Legislature, Wyoming