Wyoming News Network

A new report about the coming “health insurance exchanges,” as part of federal health care reform, says the first thing everyone in Wyoming needs to know is - think of them as marketplaces, not exchanges. There could be confusion with the word "exchange" because a private company already uses that term for an insurance-selling portal in Wyoming. The Center for Rural Affairs study examined who is expected to benefit the most from the yet-to-come marketplaces.

Report author Jon Bailey says, "Those who are uninsured, those who purchase insurance through the individual market, and small businesses - and all of those are more common in rural areas."

Although Bailey says there are clear benefits for frontier residents, he also foresees challenges - especially in the outreach arena. Many in the Wyoming countryside and lower-income folks do not have reliable Internet access, according to Bailey. One option to get around that is to tap into federal grant programs and appoint local navigators to walk people through the process.

"To provide information - to help them through the system. And I think that’s an important concept in rural areas where we have connections with community groups, and with our insurance agents."

Bailey says the marketplaces are expected to be web-based, and will provide apples-to-apples comparisons of available policies and prices, along with information on eligibility for help in paying for premiums. Wyoming won an 800-thousand dollar grant late last year to study how best to set up a system. The state could run its own, partner with other states, or let the federal government implement a program.

The Affordable Care Act requires states to have insurance marketplaces operating by January 2014 - some states will have them in place sooner