Few Wyomingites enroll in federal insurance marketplace

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Fewer than 100 Wyomingites enrolled in private health plans through the federal insurance marketplace in the first month after its troubled launch, new data shows.

The numbers are paltry, even for the nation’s least populated state. Wyoming is home to nearly 90,000 uninsured people and thousands more lack enough coverage to prevent financial ruin from a serious health problem.

About 2,650 Wyoming residents applied for insurance via the marketplace – a key part of the federal health reform law known as the Affordable Care Act. Of those, 85 actually selected a plan, according to figures released Wednesday by the Obama administration.

Nationally, nearly 27,000 people have enrolled in the federal marketplace, which serves states, including Wyoming, that chose not to develop their own programs. Another 79,000 people chose plans via state insurance exchanges.

The new figures represent the first official enrollment tally for the federal marketplace, which is intended as a place where individual consumers and small businesses can easily shop for health plans. Some people will be eligible for subsidies that could lower their premiums by hundreds of dollars.

Glitches and outages have plagued the marketplace website, healthcare.gov, since it launched Oct. 1. The problems have made it difficult for people to purchase plans or simply set up an account. In the aftermath, “navigators” tasked with educating the public about the law turned to paper applications and a government call center to help people enroll.

The website is still not performing as federal officials hope it will, but workers have made progress addressing problems, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a conference call with reporters.

“The website is very much operational and very much open for business,” she said.

Federal officials had until now refused to release enrollment statistics for the marketplace. However, the two Wyoming companies selling plans through the exchange have shared enrollment figures with reporters and state officials.

The federal enrollment data is based on people who signed up for plans, rather than those who’ve actually paid for policies. That information is expected next month, Sebelius said.

The figures are for a period that began Oct. 1 and ended Nov. 2. There are indications that interest in the exchange – at least in Wyoming – has grown since then.

Since the start of this month, WINhealth, one of the Wyoming companies offering products on the marketplace, has seen its enrollments more than double, said company President Stephen Goldstone. The company had enrolled 53 people through the end of October. As of Tuesday night, the number had grown to about 120.

“That would suggest things are picking up,” Goldstone said.

On Tuesday alone, a number of customers used the website to sign up for plans through the exchange. None of them encountered any glitches.

“The website worked as advertised,” he said.

Despite being the least populated state, Wyoming had more enrollees than Alaska, North Dakota and South Dakota, and nearly as many as Delaware.

Experts predict enrollment numbers will grow as the deadline approaches to possess insurance. People buying though the marketplace must enroll in coverage by March 31 to avoid paying a penalty. People covered through employer plans or government health programs like Medicare and Medicaid won’t have to pay either.

Federal officials stressed that enrollment began slowly when the state of Massachusetts launched its own subsidized health program in 2006.