Insurance marketplace enrollments start to pick up in Wyoming

2013-11-07T08:00:00Z Insurance marketplace enrollments start to pick up in WyomingBy JOSHUA WOLFSON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
November 07, 2013 8:00 am  • 

LANDER, Wyo. — After a sluggish start, Wyoming residents are enrolling in health insurance through the federal marketplace in greater numbers, an insurance executive reported Wednesday.

WINhealth has enrolled close to 90 customers via the exchange, with almost 40 coming in the past week, said President Stephen Goldstone. The company, one of two selling Wyoming plans through the marketplace, is now receiving between six and 10 applications a day.

“We’re seeing a steady increase,” he said.

Enrollments started slow when the marketplace opened five weeks ago. Technical problems with healthcare.gov, the federal website for the insurance exchange, made it difficult for people to shop for coverage.

The issues persist, but there are indications they are diminishing, Goldstone said.

Goldstone made the comments while attending a meeting of a state legislative committee studying the marketplace.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming, the other Wyoming company selling insurance on the marketplace, has confirmed it has also enrolled people through the exchange. The company has not released an updated tally of its enrollments.

The insurance marketplace is a key part of the federal health reform law known as the Affordable Care Act. It’s intended as a place where individual consumers and small businesses can easily shop for insurance.

Wyoming has some of highest premiums on the marketplace, but residents who qualify for tax credits will pay similar prices to consumers in other states. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates 80,000 Wyoming residents might look for coverage through the exchange, with nearly 60 percent qualifying for a subsidy.

Insurance rates will vary considerably depending on certain factors such as a person’s age. A new analysis performed by the Wyoming Department of Insurance found that post-ACA premiums rose for young men, but declined for women of the same age. Older men and women both experienced slight price drops.

The analysis did not consider subsidies, which aren’t available to the rich or very poor. At this point, it shouldn’t be considered more than a rough guess, said Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig.

“I wouldn’t bet the farm on this,” he told lawmakers.

While federal officials have released price data, they have so far refused to release marketplace enrollment figures. They promised to release detailed data next week.

That hasn’t prevented insurance companies like WINhealth from disclosing their own marketplace figures.

The recent growth in enrollment reported by WINhealth mirrors the experience of Lee Harden, one of the one of the dozens of “navigators” tasked with educating Wyoming residents about the marketplace. During the height of the technical troubles, Harden had taken to using paper applications to register people. Lately, he’s had more luck with the website.

Harden said he’s enrolled three people this week via the website and has appointments with three more.

“I’m seeing far fewer errors screens than I have in the past,” he said.

Goldstone and Harden both predict enrollments will increase as the deadline to register for insurance approaches. People have until March 31 to find coverage — through the marketplace or by other means — in order to avoid paying a penalty.

“My phone has been ringing,” Harden said.

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