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March 30, 2010 3:53 am

Health care opposition

Written by Tribune Staff

Lawmakers oppose new health care law

"We're in trouble.”

That's the way state Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, sums up his concerns about the new national health care bill passed by Congress and signed into law last week by President Barack Obama.

“It's not a good thing for any of our states or citizens,” he said. “I don't know yet what it's going to do, but it will raise taxes.”

Peterson said he worries about what the cost of new health-insurance requirements will do to small businesses and citizens who soon must buy insurance or be penalized.

He noted the bill includes plans for the Internal Revenue Service to add more agents to the government payroll to enforce the new law.

“We haven't seen the government do a good job of running anything — the Postal Service, Amtrak, Medicaid or Medicare,” he said.

Peterson is not alone in his concerns. House Speaker Colin Simpson, R-Cody, shares them.

“It's such a huge policy shift that it's a cause for great concern,” he said.

Simpson, who is running for governor, said, “From a state perspective ... the costs are yet to be seen. I'm guessing about a 30-percent increase in Medicaid enrollees, with additional costs in administrative costs and the cost to set up the exchanges that are required.

“Those are the fiscal impacts that are apparent now ... There are many people smarter than I am trying to assess the fiscal impact.

“It's such a drastic change to a very complex system, and to try and anticipate all the impacts is very difficult.”

Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell, also expressed reservations.

“I am not a supporter of it,” Bonner said.

Bonner serves on the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee that examined health care issues before and during the recent session of the Wyoming Legislature.

“I think (the new law) will bankrupt this country. I think it is going way overboard ... I think health care costs will just mount.”

Bonner said officials of the state of Massachusetts likely would agree with his position, as that state enacted similar measures to provide insurance to its residents some time ago.

“Massachusetts has not been able to control health care costs at all,” he said.

All three local lawmakers also expressed their belief that new health care law is unconstitutional because it encroaches on states' rights. Each added their signatures to those of other lawmakers on a letter asking Gov. Dave Freudenthal to add Wyoming to the list of states that have joined a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality.

Simpson has stated that, if elected, he will see that Wyoming joins that lawsuit.

Peterson said some asked him why the Legislature did not act pre-emptively against the possibility of a national health care law.

His answer: “The Legislature was out of session when it passed. When it was in session, we thought the bill was probably going to go away. It was on the ropes.”

Bonner noted that the Legislature passed a trial program in hopes of reducing health care costs for Wyoming residents.

Wyoming's new law will set up a pilot program for up to 500 participants who would receive money — and add some of their own — in a health care savings account. They would be encouraged to get regular checkups, participate in wellness screenings and get help to manage chronic illnesses, rather than waiting until they are really sick and require treatment in the emergency room, Bonner said.

Participants must work at least 20 hours to qualify and are required to pay a portion of their insurance premiums, he added.

“That's health care reform Wyoming style rather than Washington style,” he said. “It's a demonstration project, not an entitlement.”

(Editor's note: This story is part of an ongoing series about health care reform.)