Health care costs are higher in Wyoming than in any other part of the country, but a Sept. 25 summit in Casper is set to examine the issue and then point the Cowboy State down a path to reining in that difference.

The Wyoming Business Coalition on Health has labeled those high costs a serious threat to the state’s economic development and employers who offer benefits to their employees.

The costs are driven by Wyoming’s sparse population and relatively poor health as compared to the rest of the country, said Anne Ladd, the organization’s CEO.

Because of those effects, the group is reaching out to employers and business owners throughout the state to help find a solution for a high degree of variation in costs for identical procedures, she said.

“Our end goal is to try to convince a large number of employers to pool their claims data together because we really do believe if we can get pooled claims data — not clinical data, but claims data, the data used to pay the bills — that we can then … peel back the issue of variation in cost,” she said.

The coalition wants to look at variation in health care quality as well, but the conversation has to be data-driven in order to make any progress, she said.

“Unfortunately, a lot of health care conversations tend to be based on anecdotal information, but when you have data and you can say, ‘The price for this procedure varies from $800 to $8,000. Why? Why would an MRI vary in cost so much? What’s happening here, and can we address this variation?’” she said.

There can be many different kinds of conversations — that they hope will lead to solutions — when the data is examined, but employers are left speculating without that comparative data, Ladd said.

Through a vendor compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the coalition would collect that data. From there, the vendor would run a series of analyses, allowing the organization to becoming “the convenor of a conversation that yields better outcomes at reasonable costs,” she said.

When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, one part of the legislation mandated that most insurers operate with profit margins no higher than 15 to 20 percent. Anything above that mark is supposed to return to the insured in the form of a direct rebate or adjustment to future premiums.

For the Sept. 25 summit, the coalition hopes to attract individuals — namely chief financial officers, company owners and heads of human relations departments — who deal with insurance providers in their own work, Ladd said.

“If your job is that you’re in charge of health benefits for your organization and you can make a decision about pooling benefits, or you have influence on the decision of whether or not your claims data could be pooled with other companies, you’re exactly the type of person we’re trying to get to come to this meeting,” she said.

The event’s keynote speakers are national experts on collecting, analyzing and processing claims data, and will include Dr. Bruce Sherman from the Ohio-based Employers Health Coalition; David Newman, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Health Care Cost Institute; and Hal Luttschwager, risk manager for Missoula County, Montana.

“It’s not so much a matter of creating narrow networks or trying to limit who the providers are that individuals see; it’s more about saying, ‘Look, we as a provider community and as a business community need to work together to address health care costs and quality,’ and let’s do it based on data,” Ladd said.

Early registration for the event, at a cost of $75, ends at noon Thursday. After that, the price will rise to $100. Those wanting to register can do so at WyoHealth.org or by calling 307-472-5013.

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