Insurance companies say federal site functioning

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The two health insurance companies offering coverage under the federal health care law in Wyoming say the website that people must use to enroll is working better and they’re seeing a sharp increase in people registering.

WINHealth and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming are the only two insurance companies offering coverage in Wyoming through the new federal health care exchange. The Internet exchange had problems after it opened in October.

Federal figures released this week show that over 520 people in Wyoming have selected an insurance plan with one of the two companies as of the end of November. Wyoming residents must select a plan by Dec. 23 for coverage to start Jan. 1. They will have to buy a plan before March 31 to avoid a tax penalty.

Wendy Curran, with Blue Cross Blue Shield in Cheyenne, said Thursday that December registration numbers will show a dramatic increase.

“We have had a lot of folks in our district offices, our statewide offices, now that sort of the dust has settled, who really want to get answers and understand their applications, so I think the interest level is high, with folks trying to figure out what it all means,” Curran said.

Stephen K. Goldstone, president and CEO of WINhealth in Cheyenne, said Thursday that his company also is seeing an increase. “We have people walking in, people calling, people registering. Heightened level of interest,” he said.

Although the federal website initially didn’t allow people to register when it first came online in October, Goldstone said, “I would say for the most part, it’s working. They’ve had periods of downtime, but I would say it’s working more often than not working.”

Gov. Matt Mead this month released his proposed budget to state lawmakers for the two-year fiscal period that starts next July. He recommended that lawmakers not accept federal money to expand the federal Medicaid program to offer insurance coverage to about 17,600 low-income adults.

Mead, a Republican, has said he has concerns about the federal government’s promise to pick up the bulk of the cost of the Medicaid expansion in coming years. He also has said he’s concerned about implementation of the health care law given the recent problems with registration.

The Wyoming Legislature early this year voted against accepting roughly $50 million in federal funds for the optional expansion. The state Health Department has projected the state would save money by implementing the expansion, assuming federal funding continues, because it would reduce pressure on other health programs.

Goldstone said following Mead’s suggestion not to expand Medicaid would have wide-ranging effects in the state.

“I think it affects everyone in the state of Wyoming, because those people that aren’t covered are getting health care, maybe not as often as they should, but they’re getting care somewhere and probably aren’t able to afford to pay for it. That becomes a hidden tax for all of us because providers end up shifting the cost to those that can pay,” he said.

Curran said Blue Cross Blue Shield would oppose not accepting the federal government’s offer to expand Medicaid.

“I think it certainly creates a coverage problem under the grand plan of the Affordable Care Act that was based on the assumption that everyone would get coverage one way or another,” Curran said. When uninsured people show up at a hospital emergency room, hospitals have to manage those costs by raising fees for everyone else which results in higher premiums, she said.

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