Give health care program time to grow

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Working Wyomingites unable to afford health insurance have a unique opportunity for medical coverage through Healthy Frontiers. Still in its infancy, the pilot program aids low-income residents in coverage for preventive care, medications and treatment.

Healthy Frontiers isn’t a free ride. Participants must be working at least 20 hours per week to qualify, and they also make payments to their health savings accounts.

Though the health care coverage is a godsend for some patients, Healthy Frontiers hasn’t attracted as many participants as lawmakers would like.

“What we have seen is a fairly large amount of money being dedicated to that. We’ve had a limited number of participants so far show up,” Gov. Matt Mead told The Associated Press.

While it’s true the numbers are low — about 100 participants currently — lawmakers also must look at the reasons why.

A lack of marketing and limited availability have stunted Healthy Frontier’s growth.

Only a handful of communities are part of the initial pilot program, including Powell, Lovell, Casper and Cheyenne. People from other parts of the state have inquired about the program, only to be told it’s not available for them.

As Healthy Frontiers expands to include more communities, participation surely will increase.

It’s also worth noting that the number of participants has doubled since mid-October, when only 49 people were enrolled.

Lawmakers worry about the program’s cost, and rightfully so. Yet looking ahead, it’s likely the healthcare project could save the state money in the long run.

By emphasizing preventive care and exams, the program will help Wyoming rein in soaring Medicaid costs, said Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, who championed Healthy Frontiers.

The state’s total Medicaid budget, including state and federal funds, is roughly $1 billion for the two-year funding cycle that runs through next June. Wyoming’s burden is likely to increase in years to come, Scott told The Associated Press.

“Considering the financial problems that we’ve got in our Medicaid program, if we can save 35 percent on the traditional Medicaid population, that’s well worthwhile,” he said.

It’s better to invest in preventive treatment now than to pay for more serious ailments later.

A local woman’s story illustrates how Healthy Frontiers is working, and why lawmakers should give it a chance to succeed. Justine Larsen of Powell started receiving coverage through the program in December. In the past month, she needed surgery and treatment. Neither would have been possible without Healthy Frontiers.

“I would like to think there are far more success stories like me, in finding a treatable problem and fixing it, than failures with Healthy Frontiers,” Larsen said.

Ending the program now would be premature. Healthy Frontiers needs time to grow, reach more clients and prove whether it can succeed.

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