Wyoming health insurance companies report large response ahead of Affordable Care Act deadline

Both companies offering health insurance coverage in Wyoming under the Affordable Care Act report business is brisk ahead of Monday's deadline to register for insurance coverage that will start by Jan. 1.

Wyoming lawmakers, meanwhile, are set to consider whether to expand the state's Medicaid program to offer health insurance coverage to thousands of adults. That expansion is a fundamental element of the federal health care law, but Wyoming has resisted it for the past several years.

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming and WINHealth are the two companies offering private health insurance in the state under the Affordable Care Act.

Stephen Goldstone, WINHealth president and CEO, said Friday he doesn't have exact figures yet but his company has added thousands of new members since registration opened Nov. 15. The company had about 9,000 people in Wyoming signed up for coverage going into the current enrollment period.

Goldstone said he won't know until later this month how many of his existing members re-enrolled. However, he said the process has been much smoother this year than it was last year, the program's first year, when problems plagued the federal government's Internet registration site.

"The horror stories that we all saw last year are not happening again this year," Goldstone said. "I think people have better access. They're not experiencing the frustrations."

Wendy Curran, spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming, said her company had just under 2,000 contracts before the current enrollment period and has added about 2,000 more.

"So we've doubled what we had last year, at the end of the whole entire year," she said.

Curran said the company is receiving more than 100 new enrollment applications every day. Under the program, people who qualify may receive federal tax credits to help cover the cost of coverage.

"We're really pleased with the growth, and I think it's still coming," Curran said.

Wyoming lawmakers on Monday are set to consider a proposal to expand Medicaid coverage to offer insurance to roughly 17,000 more people in the state. Expanding Medicaid, under a program in which the federal government promises to pick up most of the cost, is a fundamental element of the federal health care law.

The Joint Interim Labor, Health and Social Services Committee is set to weigh options for the proposed expansion.

Gov. Matt Mead has opposed Medicaid expansion since he took office. However, he has said recently he's willing to consider it because it would save the state money and because the affected people need coverage.

The Affordable Care Act has come under fire, particularly from Republicans in the U.S. House. Goldstone said he believes that the more people who enroll for coverage, the less likely it is that the law could be repealed.

"But there's no doubt that because this is such a political issue, there's going to be a lot of efforts to, if not repeal, at least tinker," Goldstone said. "And quite frankly, we don't have enough experience to know how this will work long-term."

Eric Boley, president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said he believes it's too early to say whether the Affordable Care Act has reduced the amount of uncompensated care hospitals in the state have been stuck with from treating uninsured people.

The association has said Wyoming hospitals provided $200 million in uncompensated care in 2011.

Boley said he's hopeful the Legislature will advance the Medicaid expansion during the session that begins next month.

"In my opinion, it's really about caring for those that don't have coverage and providing that coverage," he said.