W.Va. health coverage marketplace enrollment rises

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Enrollment in West Virginia’s health insurance marketplace has jumped by more than 500 percent in the past month.

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield said 1,237 West Virginians had enrolled in plans through the federal exchange as of Monday, compared to 198 people on Nov. 13. Highmark is the only private insurer participating in West Virginia’s health insurance marketplace.

Meanwhile, about 75,000 people have enrolled in the state’s expanded Medicaid program, 12,000 more than the state had projected.

State officials, Highmark representatives and other stakeholders discussed the programs Tuesday during a meeting in Charleston, media outlets reports.

Highmark President Fred Earley said enrollment through the federal exchange increased after the government added enhancements to the website. People now are able to get through the system and sign up for coverage, and the error rate in the information sent to Highmark has dropped from 25 percent to 10 percent.

“What we’re seeing is front end functionality is much better. They continue to add and enhance that,” Earley said. “We still see errors on the back end with a 10 percent error rate. That’s a national rate and we are consistent with that. Information flows through to us but it’s not 100 percent accurate.”

But there are still problems, including information that is not properly transmitted to Highmark, he said.

Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Care, said he is concerned that young and healthy people might not sign up for health insurance in the marketplace because of the technical problems. He said this could lead to higher costs for those who are enrolled because older and sicker people are more likely to keep trying to sign up.

“Adverse selection is a real concern,” Bryant said. “If you only end up . . . with older, less healthy people, it doesn’t work. You need a combination. Hopefully, this website, Healthcare.gov, will continue to improve and people will have a better experience and will get enrolled.”

He said the Medicaid enrollment numbers are “really, really impressive.” He credited much of the success to Department of Health and Human Resources employees who made follow-up calls after the agency sent letters to 118,000 people enrolled in the food assistance program and parents of children who are on Medicaid.

“It’s been a lot of work but the real heroes are the DHHR employees who made those phone calls,” Bryant said.

Open enrollment in the state’s expanded Medicaid program and the health insurance marketplace began Oct. 1 and will continue through March 31.

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