Wyo. Considers Health Care Savings Accounts

April 1, 2005

The Wyoming Healthcare Commission is looking at setting up a “Wyo-Care” health care savings account system to help insure workers. The goal is to reduce the number of workers not covered by employer-provided plans.

According to a recent study for the commission by the Wyoming Department of Employment, an estimated 19 percent of full-time workers in Wyoming, and 88 percent of part-time workers, were not offered health insurance benefits in 2002.

Tom Gallagher, who worked on the report as manager of research and planning for the department, said a proposal similar is “germinating” in Kansas.

One strategy to help remove barriers to employer-provided insurance is to allow employees to make a contribution to health insurance costs. Another would be to use state or federal funds to help finance the plans through an existing program.

“This is an attempt to see if the situation can be more effectively managed and get more flexibility in the system,” he said.

The plan envisions greater participation by employees, who would also have more authority and choices in health care coverage. But so far, no research has touched on employees’ willingness to participate, the report said.

The report suggested starting with Wyoming’s 16,000 workers in manufacturing, wholesale trade, financial activities, education and health care.

Those industries have lower-than-average turnover and pay more than the retail and service sectors. Gallagher said many employees in retail and service can’t afford to pay for their health insurance benefits.

“I hope a positive practical strategy comes out of this,” he said.

William Britz, head of a Wheatland company that manufactures animal research equipment, said he thinks most manufacturers in Wyoming would be interested in such a plan. “If there were a way to improve costs, all the manufacturers would at least take a look at it,” he said.

Britz said it hasn’t been easy finding a way to insure all of his company’s 50 employees.

“It’s been very difficult to provide a good health are package at reasonable cost,” he said. “The cost goes up about 20 percent every year, and it’s hard to pass on to your employees.”

The situation is similar for High Country Fabrication in Casper, which manufactures equipment for oil refineries. The company provides health insurance benefits for its 55 employees but only pays for the employees and dependents, said Marcia Cromwell, human resources director.

“A lot of our guys don’t cover their spouses or kids because they can’t afford it,” she said.

She said she hopes a way can be found for manufacturing companies to group together and buy health insurance. “The reason ours is so high is because we have so few employees,” she said.

According to the Department of Employment study, middle-aged Wyoming men who have worked for a long time in large firms and earn high wages have the best access to employer-provided health insurance. But youth and women who have worked only a short time for small firms at low wages have much lesser access to health insurance benefits.

To save costs, the report said, many employers are imposing strategies such as having employees pay more of the premium cost, reducing benefits and reducing copayments.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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