The number of Wyomingites who enrolled in a health marketplace plan jumped from 521 as of Nov. 30 to 3,450 as of Dec. 28, according to demographic data released by the Department of Health and Human Services this week.

Of those in the latest statewide tally, 89 percent qualified for financial assistance compared to 79 percent nationwide.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Wyoming has a higher percentage of people requiring assistance,” said Stephen Goldstone, president and CEO of WINhealth. “There are 83,000 people uninsured in Wyoming, and they’re uninsured for a reason. They can’t afford health insurance.”

According to Health and Human Services Figures, 82,500 Wyomingites are uninsured. About half of those people are eligible for federal tax credits.

WINhealth is one of two health insurance companies, along with Blue Cross/Blue Shield, providing insurance to Wyomingites through the marketplace exchange, which launched Oct. 1.

Goldstone said WINhealth is signing up 50 to 75 people a day, and he expects to enroll 6,000 people by the time open enrollment closes March 31. After that, individuals who are uninsured will be subject to a penalty.

That, more than anything, might be the wake-up call some people need, state Rep. Elaine Harvey said.

“Until people get their income tax penalty … they’re not going to be motivated to do anything different than they’re doing today,” Harvey said.

With some exceptions, those people will have to wait until the end of the year to apply.

A Human Health and Services report shows a spike in week nine of open enrollment — after the website started working more reliably.

“We’ve had more people sign up in the first few days of January than we had all of October and November,” Goldstone said.

The report said December enrollment nationally was seven-fold greater than the combined total for October and November.

National enrollment was at 2.15 million as of Dec. 28.

Nationally, 79 percent of individuals who selected a plan could receive financial assistance, but neighboring states like Nebraska (84 percent) and South Dakota (86 percent) tracked more closely with Wyoming.

A big question in the early going has been whether the health care exchange could pull in enough younger, healthier people to not make the system costlier. So far, 35 percent of Wyoming enrollees are under the age of 34 compared to 30 percent nationally.

“I’m not even sure if it’s statistically significant at this point,” said Mike Fierberg, a spokesman in Denver for Health and Human Services’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Obviously, it’s important to have a number of young people in the system, but we want to encourage anyone of any age to sign up.”

Goldstone said WINHealth’s numbers are still “slightly skewed” toward older people.

Fierberg and Goldstone believe the end of February through the end of March will see a spike in enrollees, particularly younger people, as procrastinators try to slide in under the open enrollment deadline.

With that in mind, Fierberg encouraged Wyomingites to start doing their homework now to avoid likely delays during peak usage times.

“The website is built to handle a certain number of people on at a time, and if it gets crazy, it will tell you, 'Sorry, please try again in a few hours,'” Fierberg said. “The system works pretty well, but people want to do it when they want to do it. Delta doesn’t tell you, 'Sorry we can’t sell you a ticket right now, we’ll call you back.'”

The health care exchanges need at least a year before anyone can start making informed judgment calls on whether the program is working, Harvey, the state representative said. But she thinks Wyoming is off to a good start.

“It exceeded my expectation,” Harvey said. “Coming in as the highest premium in the nation made me very skeptical. … I thought people would be hard-pressed to buy at that price, but I think the subsidy has helped.”

Reach Tom Dixon at 307-266-0616 or tom.dixon@trib.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DixonTrib.

(7) comments

Morning Joe
Morning Joe

This is encouraging news. The first 6 or 8 people I visited with about the exchange plans & pricing were employed and had incomes in the 80K to 100K range....naturally they were hit with the higher prices that the insurance companies set for Wyoming. Only recently have I visited with lower income and retired people who were entitled to credits, their stories are more in line with what affordable healthcare is all about.

Wyoite
Wyoite

3,450 people? LOL. Of course its only the people that are being heavily subsidized by the Govt. It's easy to get 3,450 folks who aren't paying for the health insurance, and have serious health issues, to sign up. If I were real sick and spending thousands a month on hospitals and prescriptions, I'd sign up too, just like those 3,450.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing in this article was this quote from Elaine Harvey, "“It exceeded my expectation.” What exactly were her expectations? I mean if 1/2 of 1% of the Wyoming population signing up for Obamacare exceeded her expectation, one wonders whether she had any expectations at all? Did she really not expect Obamacare to reach 0.5% of her constituents? and of those signing up almost all are having their healthcare subsidized from the Feds? Spin Spin Spin.

Salty Dawg
Salty Dawg

The biggest problem with insurance costs in Wyoming,the State Insurance commission and their greed.

Kool Kat
Kool Kat

I'm paying my $97 fine and willing to thank the rest of you for my fair share when I need it.

WYO52
WYO52

And there you have it ladies and gentlemen, this fool's comment is the reason some people need the govt. to tell them what to do, because they would rather pay for their cigarettes, new car payment, and iPhone, and then say they can't afford insurance. All the while the responsible people that do have it, get to pay for those who don't.

Wyoite
Wyoite

Or you can view this as Kool Kat simply not willing to pay for other people's health insurance through increased premiums--which is probably the more rational interpretation since he is stating that he is not going to abide by the mandate and pay the fine.

whatever
whatever

or you can view this as Kool Kat and Wyoite simply not intelligent enough to realize they are already paying for other people's insurance premiums through higher costs - which is probably the most rational interpretation given their history of inane comments

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