A family-owned daily newspaper serving Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming since 1949

Obamacare quagmire

Oct 4, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Wyoming is in a position to help its citizens, and it ought to do it

So far, so congested.

Such is the experience of many Americans in accessing the new health insurance "exchanges" that came online Tuesday under the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

That definitely seems to be the case in Wyoming, where many residents who have tried to log on to the federal government's website to access the exchanges have been confronted by unreasonably long waiting times that lead many to wonder if the system has crashed.

One way of looking at this is that the system as set up by the government is so screwed up that it cannot handle the task it was intended to handle, demonstrating that Obamacare is a failure right out of the gate. That certainly is the attitude that opponents of President Barack Obama and his controversial health-care law are quick to take.

Another way of looking at it, however, is that the program is anticipated so eagerly that consumers are overwhelming the computer system set up to accommodate their inquiries.

Remember, citizens have two and a half months to sign up for insurance under the exchanges. There is no advantage in signing up on the first day, or first week, or even first month, because the soonest coverage can begin is Jan. 1.

In that vein, the government's recommendation that citizens be patient and not all try to access the system at the same time certainly has merit. Anyone who has tried to buy a high-demand item over the Internet certainly has experienced a slowdown in service from time to time, and this very likely could be the same situation.

An interesting corollary to the computer slowdowns concerns the state in which consumers live. Those states that voluntarily expanded their in-state Medicaid programs --as strongly recommended under the Obamacare legislation --generally have not been subject to such long delays when they go online to sign up for health insurance. Many people in those states can use state resources and avoid the federal tangle.

By contrast, those states that refused to cooperate with the recommendations of the legislation are the ones that now must rely on the federal government's exchange system to access health insurance information online.

And, more than coincidentally, virtually all of those states did not support Obama in the 2012 election, or are led by governors or state legislatures that oppose him. For the record, Wyoming is one of those states.

The director of the Wyoming Department of Health urged Gov. Matt Mead and state lawmakers to expand the state Medicaid system as recommended under the law, but his advice, so far, has been rejected.

Wyoming residents could pay a price for that in a couple of ways . First, independent analysis on the finances of expanding Medicaid and Wyoming versus having the federal government administer Obamacare in the state showed that Wyoming could save $50 million by handling this part of the law ourselves.

Second, Wyoming residents are finding what other anti-Obamacare states are finding, namely, that the federal system is slow and unresponsive in its early days.

On top of all that, Wyoming residents will find that the premiums for new insurance under Obamacare are higher than in most other states. This is because of our small population, our lack of insurance providers in a competitive environment (there are only two operating in the state under the exchange program), but also in no small part because Wyoming has refused to participate in the federal program as recommended.

There is an unceasing din of political noise echoing around the nation about Obamacare, the continuing budget resolution, and the looming "fiscal cliff" that have been tied up in one snarled knot by Congress. Wyoming has played a part in that political gridlock. That is a shame for the ordinary citizens of our state.

A far better use of state government energy would be to do what is necessary, regardless of its perceived political implications, to close the gap between the advantages other states have over Wyoming and what our residents confront because of small numbers, little competition and political posturing.

We are a relatively rich state, and money apparently could be saved by doing what Obamacare recommends as well. Why not use our state's resources for the benefit of the insurance-needy citizens of Wyoming rather than joining this tiresome and entirely counterproductive political battle?

It would help more citizens get insurance more quickly and inexpensively. It would position Wyoming in a healthy place outside the quagmire of political poison in Washington. And it would shorten those wait times online as well.

Chances are, that would turn out to be politically beneficial in Wyoming after all.


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