- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Insurers and government officials in Wyoming are bracing for an impending U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a challenge to the Affordable Care Act that could leave thousands of state residents without health coverage.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on a legal challenge to the federal law. The challenge targets the federal insurance exchange system that allows people in Wyoming and more than 30 other states to purchase insurance and receive federal tax credits to offset the cost. People in states that run their own insurance exchanges wouldn’t be affected.

Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Glause said Wednesday that studies have concluded that the average premiums for plan participants would rise about $3,300 a year nationally, and by about $4,000 in Wyoming if the court rules against the federal exchange.

“The bottom line is it wouldn’t be affordable for most people,” Glause said.

As people drop out of the market, only those with the most severe health problems would remain, Glause said. “Because you’re going to have a smaller population in the pool, the people that do stay are those who have the most urgent health care needs, so it’s going to be a less healthy population. That’s why you’re seeing the rates increase dramatically,” he said.

Glause said 18,228 people in the state had selected an insurance plan and made at least their first payment through the federal exchange as of May 31. Of that number, he said, 16,937 - or over 96 percent - receive a subsidy and the average subsidy is $425 a month.

If the Supreme Court rules against the federal exchanges, Glause said Wyoming’s options range from doing nothing and seeing if Congress comes up with a solution through trying to create its own state marketplace or possibly partnering with other states. He said it would be untenable for the state to try to pay the cost of the current federal subsidies - about $8.4 million a month.

Republicans in Congress also are weighing their options for how to respond if the court rules against the federal exchanges. Options under discussion include authorizing temporary federal subsidies until another Congress can approve a new approach.

Steve Goldstone is CEO of WINHealth in Cheyenne, one of two insurance companies offering coverage in the state. If the court rules against the federal exchange in Wyoming and elsewhere, his company’s wants to know how Congress will respond, he said.

“Clearly, we cannot be in a position to provide coverage for which we’re not compensated,” Goldstone said. “But based on everything I’m hearing, Congress is likely to put in a fix and continue the advanced premium tax credits for the foreseeable future.”

Goldstone said he’s not hearing concerns from customers about the impending court ruling and believes many people aren’t aware it’s coming.

Wendy Curran is an official with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming - the other company that offers coverage in the state under the Affordable Care Act. She said her company is preparing to analyze the decision as soon as it’s released and is preparing for a flood of inquiries from members if the court rules against the federal exchange.

“I do know that in the short term, after the decision is announced, that we as providers and all the insurers will continue to provide services to their members as we sort out exactly what happens next,” Curran said.

Seth Waggener, spokesman for Gov. Matt Mead, said Wednesday that the governor has directed the Department of Insurance, the Department of Health and the Attorney General to designate individuals to review and evaluate the decision immediately upon its release.

“This team will work with the Governor to determine the best option for Wyoming,” Waggener said.

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