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Wyoming health insurance exchange

Subsidized premiums low in Wyoming, but coverage gap is harsh

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  • healthinsurance.org contributor
  • October 9, 2014

ACA makes coverage affordable in Wyoming

Although Wyoming has the most expensive pre-subsidy health insurance premiums in the US, an HHS study released on June 18th demonstrates the power of the Obamacare tax credits, which are more substantial in Wyoming than in any of the other 35 states where HHS is running the exchange.

Even though Wyoming’s average pre-subsidy rates come in at a whopping $536 per person, the average after-subsidy premiums paid by the 93% of Wyoming enrollees who qualify for subsidies is just $113.

Two other states (Arizona and West Virginia) also have average after-subsidy premiums of $113, despite the fact that their “retail” rates are considerably lower than Wyoming’s ($272 and $415, respectively).  $113 is higher than the HHS-run marketplace average of $82, but it’s certainly far more affordable than the $536 that residents in sparsely-populated Wyoming would be paying without the Obamacare tax credits.

But no Medicaid expansion yet

Unfortunately for Wyoming residents living below the poverty line, the high cost of unsubsidized coverage means that the coverage gap is particularly harsh in Wyoming.  Since the state has not expanded Medicaid under Obamacare, residents with incomes below 100% of poverty are not eligible for subsidies, and Medicaid is not available for most of them either.

Their only alternative is to pay full price for private insurance, which is particularly unrealistic in a state where the average premium is more than five hundred dollars a month.

Some media reports have claimed that Wyoming is close to expanding Medicaid, but as of September it still appears that they may be premature or overly optimistic.  Governor Matt Mead is “committed only to looking at options for a negotiated expansion that takes into consideration Wyoming’s specific needs.”  Mead, a Republican, is up for re-election this fall.  Of his opponents, two – a Democrat and a Libertarian – support Medicaid expansion, and one – an Independent – opposes it.

2014 enrollment numbers

Enrollment in the Wyoming exchange continued over the summer thanks to qualifying events that trigger special open enrollment periods;  HHS will be releasing the off-season enrollment numbers in November.  As of April 19, 11,970 people had enrolled in private plans in the Wyoming exchange.  By mid-May, 92 percent of them had paid their initial premiums.

The total private plan enrollment was the fourth lowest in the country, but Wyoming has the smallest population in the US.

An additional 2,216 exchange applicants had been found to be eligible for the state’s existing (not expanded) Medicaid or CHIP.

Originally, the federal projection was that Wyoming would have 13,000 private plan enrollees by March 31.  That was revised to around 10,000, and officials were optimistic that a March surge in application volume would put total enrollment into the five figure range.  That projection proved to be correct, and the exchange far surpassed the 10,000 mark by the end of the 2014 open enrollment window.

Wyoming carriers and rates

The federally-run Wyoming health insurance exchange has 18 plans available from two health insurance carriers:  Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming and WINhealth Partners.  Both carriers will continue to participate in the exchange in 2015.

Rates in Wyoming are higher than anywhere else in the country, due to a variety of factors including a small number of insurers and a sparse, mostly rural population.  The national average for the lowest cost Bronze plan in 2014 is $249/month, but in Wyoming, it’s $425/month.  Excluding Natrona and Laramie counties (home to Casper and Cheyenne), the rest of Wyoming ranks as the sixth most expensive region in the US for health insurance plans.

2015 rates have not yet been announced for Wyoming.

Wyoming exchange history

Gov. Matt Mead announced in late 2012 that Wyoming would default to the federal health insurance exchange for 2014, with the possibility of moving to a state-run exchange at some unspecified future date.

In 2012, the Wyoming legislature passed a bill requiring a small committee to study the federal government’s implementation and operation of the exchange. The committee will monitor how many state residents use the federal exchange, what problems they encounter, operating costs, and other factors in deciding whether to recommend the state eventually take over operations of the exchange.

The committee held its first meeting in April 2013, and the study may take more than two years according to the committee co-chair.  This round of study continues the evaluation process started by the Wyoming Health Insurance Exchange Steering Committee, which Mead appointed in 2011.

Gov. Mead has also refused to expand Medicaid, but there’s a possibility that the state will reconsider that decision.  Two bills that would expand Medicaid passed out of committee in January by a small margin.  Both failed introduction during the budget session in mid-February, and the 2014 legislative session did not result in any further legislation on the issue.

But some lawmakers are continuing to push for Medicaid expansion, and Governor Mead is keeping an eye on neighboring Utah to see how they do with their proposed alternative to Medicaid expansion.  Although Mead has said that he’s opposed to Medicaid expansion as it’s written in the ACA, he may be open to the possibility of a state-designed alternative.  As far as Medicaid expansion goes, a lot hinges on the will of the state’s voters, as Mead is up for re-election in November.

Wyoming health insurance exchange links

HealthCare.gov
800-318-2596

Wyoming Insurance Department
Provides consumer protection and support to Wyoming residents by investigating consumer complaints and resolving issues on insurance matters.
(307) 777-7401 / Toll Free: 1-800-438-5768 / wyinsdep@state.wy.us

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