CASPER – The number of Wyomingites who have obtained health insurance on the Obamacare exchange increased by 11 percent this year to 23,770 people, according to federal data.
The health care exchange – www.HealthCare.gov – is an online marketplace where people can shop for insurance plans if they do not receive coverage through work. The exchange is the result of the Affordable Care Act, which aims to reduce overall health care costs by requiring nearly everyone have coverage.
In 2016, the state only had one insurance company offering plans on the health care exchange: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming. WINhealth, an insurer that was previously offering plans, ceased operations in December. That meant all WINhealth customers had to re-enroll at HealthCare.gov. Much of this year’s increase reflects the former WINhealth customers, said Tracy Brosius of the Wyoming Institute of Population Health, an exchange education group affiliated with Cheyenne Regional Medical Center.
“We are very pleased about this, that we did not lose enrollment – even with the changes in the plans that were available for consumers,” she said.
Some of the state’s most rural counties had the largest increases in the number of people who had enrolled and paid for their policies, according to the data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
That includes Big Horn County, which had a 123 percent increase to 533 people, Weston County, which had a 91 percent increase to 237 people and Crook County, which saw a 78 percent increase to 390 people.
In the state’s largest-population areas, increases were also in the double digits: Natrona County had a 19 percent increase to 2,640 people, and Laramie County increased 15 percent to 2,820 people.
Fremont was the only county with a decrease between 2015 and 2016 – 13 percent, or a drop of 267 people.
Brosius said the reason for the decrease isn’t known for certain, but it is largely believed to be due to a federal court ruling that the Northern Arapaho tribe is a large employer and must offer insurance under the ACA. Casino employees who were getting coverage from the exchange likely dropped the plans and obtained insurance through the tribe, she said.
Increases were experienced in some of the state’s large energy-producing counties: Campbell, up 58 percent to 1,072 people; Sweetwater, up 23 percent to 1,186 people; Converse, up 26 percent to 404; and Sublette, up 60 percent to 631.
A portion of those people who have enrolled and paid for plans may have been laid-off workers in oil, natural gas and coal. But not all of the new enrollees were laid-off workers, Brosius said.
A layoff usually qualifies a worker for a special enrollment period that is outside HealthCare.gov’s open enrollment period for the general population, which spans from November through January.
The new data is based on open enrollment and not special enrollment, Brosius said.
After March layoffs at Power River Basin coal mines, navigators traveled to the region and talked to unemployed workers about their health care options.
“It was a lot of one-on-one counselling – depending on a family’s current status,” she said. “Potentially it was better for them to go on the other spouse’s insurance plan, or to do the COBRA plan.”
COBRA allows workers to continue to obtain health insurance through their former employers, by paying into the plans.
People who enrolled after the March layoffs were not reflected in the new federal data.
But Brosius said enrollment numbers are likely increasing due to the laid-off workers and that will be shown in future federal reports.