Monday marks the deadline for Wyoming residents and the rest of the nation to enroll for health care plans in the insurance exchange outlined by the Affordable Care Act.
Despite the mishaps and follies that have nagged the implementation of the health care law, industry experts are optimistic about enrollment figures in Wyoming.
Following a surge in March, the state’s enrollment rate is on par with that of other rural states, even though it sits below the national average, analysts say.
Of the 80,000 potential enrollees in Wyoming, 6,838 have registered for health care coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ figures from March 1.
Forty-three other states and the District of Columbia have higher enrollment percentages.
Compared with Wyoming’s neighboring states, only South Dakota has a smaller percentage of enrollment, 5.7 percent. All other states are above 10 percent.
Wyoming has been slow to warm to the Affordable Care Act, said Jan Cartwright, director of health policy at the Wyoming Primary Care Association.
“There are a lot of folks with a wait-and-see attitude,” she said.
Despite the lagging numbers, officials at Wyoming’s two insurers selling premiums through the health care exchange say they are confident March boosted enrollment numbers.
WIN Health, one of the local insurers enrolling people in the exchange, reported a 20 percent increase from December, the last month that included a significant increase in enrollment, said John Gardner, chief business development officer for WIN Health.
The numbers for March will be available later this week, Gardner said.
The other insurer in the state, Blue Cross Blue Shield, also reported an enrollment jump, said the company’s president and CEO, Rick Schum.
“March has been a very active month, and we continue to see a very high demand,” he said.
The original federal outlook for Wyoming was to have 13,000 by the deadline, said Tracy Brosius, operations director for the Wyoming Institute of Population Health.
"I think we will come close," she said. "At least over 10,000. For us, that is huge. We’ve had a lot of education to do. But the interest is high."
The reasons for the increase in enrollment can vary across the board, but one driver for the March growth may be a time-based variable: tax season.
This year is the last for individuals to avoid paying a penalty for being uninsured. Next year, the Internal Revenue Service will crack uninsured individuals for not having coverage.
“People are seeing their tax professionals, and they are saying, ‘You need to get coverage,’” Gardner said.
About 20 percent of people filing their taxes at the H&R Block in Casper are uninsured, said Rod Raleigh, office manager at the location.
“We are advising all of our clients that they need to have health care coverage according to national law,” he said. “Some are surprised when we tell them. But because it’s been in the news; many know it’s coming.”
Brosius urged anyone without insurance to begin enrolling over the weekend. She said that even if the application isn't completed by the weekend, it will make the person eligible for the grace period.
But now that a deadline looms and the threat of a penalty is tangible, consumers are starting to see the realities of the law, Schum said.
“I don’t think consumers wake up and say they need to spend the day looking for health insurance,” he said. “But it’s been drummed into us by society.”