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March 15, 2012 7:57 am

EDITORIAL: Healthy Frontiers cut too soon

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Program needed time to grow, gain more participants

Like many Americans, hardworking Wyomingites often struggle to find affordable health insurance.

Wyoming had an innovative program that may have been a long-term solution. Unfortunately, it wasn’t given enough time to prove itself.

Last week, state lawmakers cut funds for Healthy Frontiers, terminating the program that offered health insurance to low-income residents.

It wasn’t a free ride. Participants had to be working at least 20 hours per week and also had to make payments toward their health savings account.

Some critics didn’t want state government to be involved with health care.

Sorry, but Wyoming already is involved in health care.

The budget approved last week includes $560 million in state dollars for Medicaid — up from $80 million just 10 years ago, as Gov. Matt Mead noted Friday.

Healthy Frontiers was envisioned as a way to rein in soaring Medicaid costs.

The idea is to keep people off Medicaid and offer preventive care to help reduce costly emergency room visits, said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, who worked for years to establish Health Frontiers. Data showed the program could have shaved 35 percent off the cost of Medicaid services.

But lawmakers nixed Healthy Frontiers before it could prove itself as a viable alternative.

The program was never widely publicized, so naturally, it drew a low number of participants. That worried some legislators. But how can it be deemed a failure if it wasn’t even marketed statewide? Many residents never had the opportunity to hear about it, much less enroll.

Healthy Frontiers did begin to gain momentum in recent months as word slowly spread.

Misconceptions also hampered its growth.

Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, said handing out a small amount of state aid wouldn’t make residents change their lifestyles.

“I think the only thing that will change that is people having to suffer the consequences of their own poor decisions. When we put together these kinds of programs, we’re basically acting like enablers,” Wallis said.

“Lifestyles” or “poor choices” aren’t to blame for the high cost of health insurance or the fact that many struggle to afford coverage. One could argue that working Americans without health insurance are actually suffering the consequences of lawmakers’ poor decisions.

Perhaps critics like Rep. Wallis never had the opportunity to hear the voices of Healthy Frontiers participants.

Here are a couple of their stories.

Debbie Milder of Casper works part time at a law firm without health benefits. She suffered from severe sleep apnea that wasn’t diagnosed until she had a physical exam, as required under Healthy Frontiers. The program paid for diagnostic testing and a machine to keep her airway open while she sleeps.

“I could have died, and I did not know that,” Milder told the Casper Star-Tribune last fall.

Or Justine Larsen of Powell, whose story is featured in today’s edition. She works for the local school district, but receives no health benefits. Healthy Frontiers came as a godsend — only to be taken away.

Last week, Larsen wrote a letter to Gov. Mead, telling him: “I’m typing this to you with a broken wrist that I had treated while insured with Healthy Frontiers. It is the wrist I broke while walking back into work after my 1/2 hour lunch break on my 43rd birthday. I have been in two casts and continue to try to heal. I have had cancer removed from the top of my head in February while insured on Healthy Frontiers. Does this mean that I can’t now go to the follow up appointments for each injury/illness? I certainly can’t afford to miss any more work, and I can’t begin to afford to pay for additional treatment without coverage.”

Lawmakers must now answer that question: What happens to the 105 people who depended on Healthy Frontiers? The state had already allocated $1 million for Healthy Frontiers to continue for one year, but now it will end July 1.

Healthy Frontiers was cut too soon because of lawmakers’ shortsightedness. Write to your legislators and Gov. Mead and ask them to reconsider funding the program in the future.

3 comments

  • Comment Link March 16, 2012 7:17 am posted by Disgusted taxpayer

    Right wing bigots in Wyoming don't really care about what little folks need,they are after the big goose eggs.

  • Comment Link March 23, 2012 7:16 am posted by Steve Moseley

    Good lord man, give it a rest. Take a day off. Come to the surface and breathe. Maybe even try to smile. You'll live longer.

  • Comment Link March 31, 2012 3:03 pm posted by Larry Grosinger

    Could'nt agree more with Teresa.The comment that could not sign their name- spare us.

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