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Wyoming health insurance exchange

WY exchange enrollment 42 percent higher than it was in April 2014 - biggest percentage jump in the country

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  • healthinsurance.org contributor
  • January 15, 2014

2015 enrollment data

17,029 people had enrolled in the Wyoming exchange during the first eight weeks (November 15 to January 9) of the 2015 open enrollment period, including auto-renewal of 2014 plans.  Compared with the fewer than 12,000 people who enrolled in the entire open enrollment period in Wyoming in 2014, enrollment for 2015 is looking very successful.

Even with five weeks to go, enrollment in the Wyoming exchange was already 42 percent higher than it was at the end of open enrollment last year.  This was the highest percentage increase in the country when comparing enrollment numbers as of January 9 with enrollment numbers in April 2014.

In the first month of open enrollment, 92 percent of the private plan enrollees in the Wyoming exchange were eligible for premium subsidies.

In addition to the private plan enrollees, 672 exchange enrollees were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.  Wyoming has not yet expanded Medicaid, so these enrollees were eligible based on the unchanged guidelines in the state.  Governor Matt Mead was pushing the legislature towards approving a Medicaid expansion plan presented to them in late November, but lawmakers proposed a different plan and so far, neither plan has gotten anywhere.

ACA makes coverage affordable in Wyoming

Although Wyoming had the most expensive pre-subsidy health insurance premiums in the US in 2014, 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 in 2014 came 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 had 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.

Wyoming carriers and rates

Although rates are decreasing in many areas of the country for people willing to switch plans in 2015, that’s not the case in Wyoming.  The NY Times Upshot pegs the increase in benchmark plan premiums in Wyoming at 7 percent or more, although the Kaiser Family Foundation shows the average benchmark plan in Wyoming increasing by just 1.6 percent for 2015.

Across all plans and metal levels in the exchange, a Commonwealth Fund analysis found that rates in Wyoming’s exchange are an average of 5 percent higher in 2015 for a 40 year-old non-smoker.

For people who qualify for subsidies however (which was 93 percent of the exchange enrollees in Wyoming in 2014, and 92 percent during the first month of the current open enrollment period), the state’s high health insurance premiums are dramatically offset by the premium tax credits, and that will continue to be the case in 2015.  The average after-subsidy premium for the benchmark plans in Wyoming is expected to be $208 in 2015, a dollar less than it was in 2014.

The federally-run Wyoming health insurance exchange has 40 plans available (up from 18 last year) from two health insurance carriers:  Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming and WINHealth Partners, both of which participated in the exchange in 2014.

Prior to 2015 open enrollment, WINHealth had roughly 9,000 members in Wyoming, but their CEO said that they had added “thousands” of enrollees during the first month of open enrollment.  Blue Cross Blue Shield of WY had  about 2,000 enrollees at the end of open enrollment in 2014, and they had added 2,000 more enrollees in the first month this time around.  Both carriers noted that things were much smoother in round two.

No longer the highest rates in the country

Rates in Wyoming were higher than anywhere else in the country in 2014, due to a variety of factors including a small number of insurers and a sparse, mostly rural population.  Excluding Natrona and Laramie counties (home to Casper and Cheyenne), the rest of Wyoming ranked as the sixth most expensive region in the US for health insurance plans in 2014.

But a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis in November 2014 found that Burlington, Vermont and Anchorage, Alaska both have higher average pre-subsidy premiums for 2015 Bronze and Silver plans than Cheyenne, Wyoming (rates in the study were based on a 40 year old non-smoker).

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.

It’s possible that the state could be moving towards expanding Medicaid though.  Governor Matt Mead has been discussing the issue with the federal government, and he noted in early November that HHS is “more open” to modified Medicaid expansion than they were in the past.  Then in late November, the Governor released the details of his Medicaid expansion proposal, which would include modest premiums for enrollees with incomes between 100 percent and 138 percent of poverty, and along with small copays for many newly-eligible enrollees.

HHS has not yet approved Wyoming’s proposal, and the state legislature would still have to agree to it before it could be implemented.  That part is proving to be tricky, as lawmakers responded by presenting a different version of Medicaid expansion that had not been vetted for budget neutrality – ultimately, nothing had been done by late December.  But it’s possible that Wyoming could join the list of states with expanded Medicaid by 2016.

And while 70 percent of Wyoming residents disapprove of the ACA in general, 55 percent support Medicaid expansion according to a recent poll conducted by the University of Wyoming.

2014 enrollment numbers

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 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 initially refused to expand Medicaid, but began supporting expansion as the year went on.  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.

In November 2014, Gov. Mead and the Health Department presented lawmakers with a modified Medicaid expansion proposal, and the governor asked them to approve it.  Instead, lawmakers introduced their own version of a Medicaid expansion proposal, and no progress had been made as of late December.

Wyoming health insurance exchange links


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.