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West Virginia health insurance exchange

12k enrollments in WV exchange by Dec 15; WV benefits more than any other state from full ACA implementation

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  • healthinsurance.org contributor
  • January 12, 2015

As of December 15, the West Virginia exchange had 12,283 private plan enrollees for 2015.  85 percent are receiving premium subsidies, and 54 percent of them are new to the exchange.  The rest are people who had plans in 2014 and manually renewed or changed them between November 15 and December 15, but the total does NOT include people whose 2014 plan was auto-renewed by the exchange.

By December 31, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield (the only carrier in West Virginia’s exchange) reported that they had enrolled 31,100 people in 2015 plans, including on and off-exchange policies, and renewals from 2014.  But it wasn’t clear what percentage of those plans were purchased outside the exchange.  Off-exchange plans must be fully ACA-compliant, but if you enroll outside the exchange, you’re not eligible for subsidies.

An additional 1,512 exchange enrollees had enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP between November 15 and December 15.  That enrollment continues year-round, but tends to have an uptick during the open enrollment period for private plans because of all the publicity and outreach regarding health insurance.

If you enroll between now and January 15, you’ll have coverage effective February 1.  If you enroll between January 16 and February 15, your coverage will be effective March 1.  After February 15, you won’t be able to enroll for a plan in 2015 (on or off-exchange) unless you have a qualifying event.

2015 rates and plans

West Virginia still has just one carrier in its exchange – Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield – although the carrier only offered 12 plans in 2014, and has bumped that up to 14 in 2015.  West Virginia is the only state in the country where there’s only one carrier participating in the exchange in 2015.

In 2014, the lowest cost bronze plan in the WV exchange was an average of $280/month, higher than the national average of $249.  For 2015, the average rate increase in the individual market in West Virginia is 6.7 percent, although there is variation from one plan and region to another, and includes off-exchange plans as well as plans in the exchange.

Because the exchange only has one participating carrier, there isn’t as much to be gained as there is in other states by shopping around again during the 2015 open enrollment.  The NY Times Upshot shows that people who have the benchmark plan (second lowest cost silver plan) in 2014 are seeing an average rate increase of 9 percent in most of the state.  Since the benchmark plan isn’t changing to a new carrier, so there’s no option to switch to a cheaper plan, unless they want to go with the lowest-cost silver plan or a bronze plan.

Across all metal levels in the exchange, a Commonwealth Fund analysis found an average rate increase of 10 percent for a 40 year-old non-smoker in West Virginia.  Of course, most enrollees qualify for subsidies, and the subsidies will rise to keep pace with the increase in price for the benchmark plan.

The ACA’s impact in West Virginia

Although West Virginia opted to let HHS run the exchange, the state chose to expand Medicaid under the ACA, and has been working diligently to enroll as many people as possible in expanded Medicaid.  Their efforts have paid off:  The state had the second-highest increase in Medicaid/CHIP enrollment in the country (Oregon was first).

By June 9, West Virginia had 508,496 residents (about 27% of the state’s population) enrolled in Medicaid or Children’s Health Insurance Program.  And as of mid-September, reports indicated that the state had enrolled virtually all of the people who were eligible for expanded Medicaid.  Medicaid enrollment continues year-round, so any remaining eligible residents can enroll at any time.

In 2013, about 17 percent of the West Virginia population was uninsured.  By July 2014, that number had fallen to 6.6 percent, and the reduction is due almost entirely to the ACA.

In a study conducted by Wallet Hub, West Virginia is currently ranked second in the nation in terms of how much the states and their residents benefit from Obamacare.  If all provisions of the law were fully implemented in every state (including Medicaid expansion, which West Virginia has already implemented), West Virginia would rise to the top of the list as the state the benefits the most from the ACA.

ACA subsidies hang in the balance

Because West Virginia has a federally-run exchange, subsidies beyond mid-2014 are dependent on the ruling in the upcoming Supreme Court case on King v. Burwell.  If the court rules that subsidies are only allowed in state-run exchanges (as the plaintiffs in the case are proposing), subsidies would evaporate in states like West Virginia.  For the state to create its own exchange would probably cost somewhere between $8 – $10 million annually, and officials have so far not commented on whether the state is considering this step.

Prior to announcing in 2013 that West Virginia would be expanding Medicaid, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration had hired out cost analyses for both Medicaid expansion as well as setting up a state-run exchange, and ultimately decided that Medicaid expansion would provide more bang for their buck.

Clearly, this is predicated on the basic assumption that subsidies would be available to all eligible exchange enrollees, regardless of whether the state or HHS was ultimately running the exchange (in WV, the exchange is actually a partnership between the state and HHS), and flies in the face of the King plaintiffs’ contention that the ACA used subsidies – or the lack thereof – as a carrot (or a stick, depending on how you look at it) to encourage states to establish their own exchanges.

For now, subsidies are still available in every state.  But the Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in March, with a ruling to be handed down in June.

How many people enrolled in 2014?

In addition to Medicaid and CHIP enrollments, 25,856 people had completed their private plan Obamacare enrollments by early July 2014, which represented an increase of about 6,000 people since the end of the 2014 open enrollment period (qualifying events trigger special enrollment periods for private plans.)

Another 6,171 people had enrolled directly (outside the exchange) through Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield – the only carrier offering 2014 plans in the WV exchange – between October 1 and April 15.

Prior to open enrollment, there were an estimated 99,000 West Virginians eligible for private Obamacare plans, so the combined total of on and off-exchange enrollments represents nearly a third of those individuals.  Perry Bryant, Executive Director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, called the first year’s enrollment numbers “not as robust as we would have liked” but noted that HealthCare.gov is much more functional that it was a year ago.

Kentucky CO-OP postpones expansion to WV

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield was the only carrier offering coverage in the West Virginia exchange in 2014.  In late May however, West Virginia announced that the Kentucky Health Cooperative would be joining the WV exchange and its plans would be available alongside the Highmark policies during the 2015 open enrollment that begins November 15.

But in early November, Kentucky Health Cooperative announced that they were postponing their expansion into West Virginia by a year, saying that they needed additional time to make sure that the new West Virginia Health Cooperative would be fully functional before being offered for sale in WV.

Kentucky Health Cooperative is a CO-OP (consumer oriented and operate plan) created under the ACA.  Joseph Smith, the CO-OP’s Chairman, mentioned that in Kentucky, the CO-OP had 2014 enrollment that was double what they had expected.  Because the CO-OP filed rates alongside Highmark for 2015, experts believe (and Highmark has confirmed) that Highmark was forced to be more competitive with their rates for 2015.  Those rates were not able to be adjusted heading into the current open enrollment, even after the CO-OP pulled out of the WV market.  So the rates from Highmark are as good as they would have been with competition from another carrier.

Why has West Virginia been so successful?

West Virginia is expanding Medicaid, and is using auto-enrollment directly through the state’s Medicaid program, in addition to Medicaid enrollment through the exchange.  The state has been working to contact residents who receive SNAP and WIC benefits, as well as households where some members were already receiving Medicaid benefits.  By letting these individuals know about the expanded Medicaid program, the outreach program has been wildly successful.

Actuaries had predicted that 63,000 people would enroll in WV’s expanded Medicaid program in 2014, but by September, the number of new Medicaid enrollments in WV had grown to between 132,00 and 145,000 people, out of an estimated total of between 143,000 and 150,000 eligible people.

West Virginians for Affordable Health Care is a group that has been instrumental in pressing for healthcare reform in West Virginia for nearly a decade.  They have been involved in education and outreach about the ACA, and are pushing for better management of chronic illnesses, which account for three quarters of the state’s health care spending.  Their efforts have helped to bolster WV’s exchange enrollment numbers, for both Medicaid and private plans.

In December 2014, West Virginia University’s School of Public Health received a $2 million grant that will be used to pilot innovative approaches to improving public health and controlling healthcare costs.  The initiative is sponsored by CMS, and is initially focused on people using Medicare, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).  But WVU and its public health partners envision that eventually “… all West Virginians will benefit from these initiatives…”

West Virginia exchange history

After first developing plans to operate a state-run health insurance exchange, West Virginia submitted a blueprint for a partnership exchange to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The blueprint for the West Virginia Health Insurance Marketplace was approved in March 2013.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s administration cited cost, particularly the expense associated with information technology systems, as a key factor in deciding against a state-run exchange. Administration officials also said the partnership gives the state some control over the exchange.

Under the partnership, West Virginia is responsible for regulating the companies that sell health insurance policies on the exchange.

The state also oversees the In-Person Assister (IPA) program. Assisters will be under contract with the state and provide individuals impartial help with the enrollment process.  In November, the state announced that it would be hiring an additional 100 people to help residents enroll in the exchange and the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

No extension of grandmothered plans

West Virginia is not allowing non-grandfathered pre-2014 policies in the individual market to renew again in 2014; they had to be replaced with ACA-compliant coverage as of their renewal date in 2014.  And the state has also filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration because the federal government deferred to the states on the decision about whether or not to renew grandmothered plans.

Contact the exchange

West Virginia residents will enroll through the federally facilitated exchange; 2015 enrollment runs November 15, 2014 through February 15, 2015.


West Virginia health insurance exchange links

West Virginia Health Reform Resources

State Exchange Profile: West Virginia
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of West Virginia’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.