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State health exchange questions remain

Sep 26, 2013 - The Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to

launch the insurance website Oct. 1.

CHEYENNE --The federal government stands ready next week to open a website offering health insurance to Wyoming residents under the federal Affordable Care Act, but key players in the state say they still have questions.

Wyoming is among 36 states in which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to launch health insurance exchanges on Oct. 1. The public may start purchasing insurance through the exchanges beginning in January.

The federal agency released information on rates this week showing Wyoming will face some of the highest premiums in the nation.

Federal officials say that nationally, for a family of four making $50,000 a year, the average monthly premium for a "silver" plan would be $774. In Wyoming, that rate would be $1,237, but tax credits for eligible insurance shoppers could bring the cost down.

Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig said higher rates are predictable because it's more expensive to provide health care in a sparsely populated state. Wyoming is the least-populated state with a population of around 560,000.

"I think Wyoming struggles being such a rural state with no large metropolitan centers," he said.

Health care becomes more affordable in areas where there's more competition among providers, he said.

While federal officials have yet to say which insurance companies will offer coverage in Wyoming through the exchange, Hirsig said he believes it will include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming and WINhealth.

Wendy Curran, senior director of care delivery and coordination for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming, said Wednesday her company plans to continue offering coverage in the state.

Curran said she agrees a number of factors lead to higher rates in Wyoming.

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