Wyoming is in a health-insurance crisis, in my view. Whose fault is it? There is plenty of blame to go around. So there is no sense in pointing fingers and arguing about who has caused this crisis. We need to figure out a solution. As it stands now, health insurance is a luxury. It isn’t something the average Wyomingite or Wyoming small business can afford.
Why do I say we are in a crisis? I did a little research on the health exchange websites to see what insurance I could get my family of four in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and South Dakota. The cost for insurance in Wyoming was the highest. For a “Platinum” plan it was nearly $700 a month higher than in Utah.
I understand we are rural but that is crazy. Seven hundred dollars a month is $8,400 a year: that can buy a lot of groceries. Save it for a couple of years and you could have a new car. In Colorado, that same Platinum plan costs $500 a month less than in Wyoming; in South Dakota, that plan costs $300 a month less than in Wyoming.
How can an individual afford to buy insurance? Sure, it is nice that there are subsidies coming from the federal government to help pick up that tab — if you meet the required threshold for the subsidies and qualify — but that is still taxpayer (yours and my) money. Why the big difference in these neighboring states?
If an employer is picking up the tab for a family under my example above, it would be like paying nearly $10 an hour on top of the actual wage paid. This puts businesses that are solely operated/owned in Wyoming at a disadvantage, compared to those that have an office out of state and can purchase health insurance more cheaply. No wonder many small businesses in Wyoming cannot afford to offer this benefit.
How do we correct this? One possible solution is to open the borders to insurance companies and get a larger pool of people paying into the same pool. Why is there only one insurance company in Wyoming? Why can’t I call any company that offers health insurance and get coverage? If something major happens I won’t be in Wyoming receiving care. I will be shipped out of state to a larger hospital.
There are only 500,000 people in Wyoming, give or take. If they are the only people that put into the pool of money to pay insurance claims, then there is a lot less money in the pool than, say, from a state like Utah with more than 3 million people, or Colorado with a population of more than 5.5 million. Heck, even South Dakota has 863,000 people to put money into its pool.
We need to do something so that health insurance isn’t a luxury for Wyomingites. If the costs are too expensive, one of our most valuable resources — our workers — will become our biggest export. They may love living in Wyoming but they won’t be able to afford to.
It is nice to have a hospital in my town as in many towns across the state. I know I pay a levy on my property tax which helps it operate. But why are the bills so high?
Why should I care? After all, I have health insurance.
Inefficiency costs us all, even the insured
I care because I still have to pay a percentage of the bill, and if I lose my job (and its health insurance) I will have to pay the whole amount. It doesn’t matter if I (or my employer) paid into the insurance pool on my behalf for decades, if I no longer have a job, there is nothing there for me.
How can we bring the cost of health care in Wyoming down so that those who can’t afford the insurance premiums can get preventive care? Without it they could end up using the emergency room, thus passing the cost onto everyone who can and does pay. How can we bring those same costs down so that those who have insurance can afford their share of the bill?
Health care is usually something you don’t know in advance that you need. You can’t shop around and you don’t want to drive hundreds of miles while sick or in pain to get the best deal. You are stuck with what is offered locally.
As a small business owner I would love to offer health insurance to my employees, and we did at one time. I again checked on the exchange. If we were to offer insurance just for our employees and not their families, it is nearly $850 a month for a plan with a $5,000 deductible. If the two employees were to go onto the exchange individually it would be $364 and $547 ($911 total) a month for a plan with a $5,500 deductible. For a better plan with a $1,000 deductible it would be $1,229 a month.
Figuring four weeks at 40 hours each this equates to an additional $2.65 or $3.85 an hour depending on which plan is chosen.
This is just for the employee. He or she still has to figure out how to cover the family. That may be a deal-breaker for a person deciding whether to go and work for a small business. Who can blame them? How can the small business compete for employees and for customers? Employees prefer jobs that offer health insurance for them and their families. Customers want low prices for the goods and services so a business can’t just pass the costs on.
Just for grins I tried it for Utah. Residents have their own marketplace for which I would have had to certify that I had a Utah business, so I couldn’t get a quote. I tried South Dakota. It is $548 for a $4,500 deductible and $1,038 for a $1,000 deductible for the same two employees.That makes a savings of $200 to $300 a month compared to Wyoming. That adds up over a year.
Wyoming needs to find a way to bring down the costs of both insurance and medical treatments. This would grow our economy and also make the state a better place to work and raise a family. Let’s stop the partisan politics and bowing down to special interests and do what is right to keep Wyoming strong. Skip the politics, start talking to each other, and figure out what we can do to bring down the costs.
Annemarie Albins works in her family’s business in Kemmerer. A U.S. Navy veteran, she is married with two small children. She holds a BS degree in business management and an MBA from the University of Wyoming — Ed.