GILLETTE – Former Wyoming Blackjewel LLC coal miners who have been out of work since July 1 and without health insurance since their group health plan was canceled Aug. 31 can sign up for the federal health insurance marketplace retroactively to Sept. 1.
The Wyoming Department of Insurance has successfully lobbied the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make an “exceptional circumstances” special enrollment period through Oct. 30, said Denise Burke, an attorney with the state Department of Insurance.
The exception allows former Blackjewel coal miners an option to buy health insurance off the marketplace and made it retroactively effective to Sept. 1, which means workers and family members with ongoing health issues can continue treatment as if they never lost insurance.
That CMS made the allowance for Blackjewel workers in Wyoming “is pretty extraordinary,” Burke said, adding that the Department of Insurance “had to advocate pretty hard for the miners.”
Since nearly 600 Blackjewel employees at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in Campbell County were abruptly locked out of their jobs July 1, the workers have been in a legal limbo.
At first, they were unable to access their 401(k) retirement accounts to tide them over while waiting for a potential call back to work because the company contended they weren’t laid off, only furloughed, and were still considered employees. As the bankruptcy process progressed, the company’s group health insurance was canceled as of Aug. 31.
Because the plan was canceled and Blackjewel is insolvent and in bankruptcy, employees did not have the option to extend their health coverage through COBRA, which would’ve allowed workers to extend their health coverage for up to 18 months after losing their jobs.
When their health coverage ended Aug. 31, a 60-day grace period began for former coal miners to buy private health care coverage or enroll through the federal marketplace.
While that grace period remains, in this case it’s Oct. 30, the “exceptional circumstances” waiver by CMS will allow people to enroll any time before that date with an option to make coverage retroactive to Sept. 1, Burke said.
While that also means paying for September under whatever plan is chosen, it will help some workers and their families dealing with ongoing serious medical issues that can’t be treated without continuous coverage, she said. With this, it would be like their coverage hadn’t been interrupted.
“This gives them some options they didn’t have before,” she said.
The exception basically means any former Wyoming Blackjewel employee signing up for marketplace health care coverage will have two tracks to choose from. One is to make it retroactive and the other allows a choice of when coverage will begin.