U.S. Markets open in 6 hrs 46 mins

Wyo. health exchange enrollment low, but growing

Ben Neary, Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- The latest federal figures show that 85 Wyoming residents have registered for private insurance through the federal government's health insurance exchange.

A report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that the federal exchange received just over 1,350 completed Wyoming applications between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2. Those applications represented over 2,650 individuals.

Wyoming is one of 36 states relying on the federally run exchange at www.healthcare.gov. Problems with that website have prevented many people from completing applications or even registering in some cases.

Only two private insurance companies are offering federally approved health insurance through the exchange: WINhealth and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming. Officials from both companies say they're seeing improvements in the federal exchange lately.

Stephen Goldstone is president of WINhealth. He said Wednesday the federal figures are clearly lagging behind because his company already has about 125 people enrolled through the federal exchange so far.

"We're seeing a rapid increase in the number of enrollees, and the website is functioning much better," Goldstone said. "We had people in the office yesterday enrolling, and we're getting them enrolled without any problem."

The Obama administration has made fixing the troubled website a top priority as officials are coming under increasing fire from congressional Republicans to explain the decision to roll out the site early last month before it was functioning properly.

"They're pushing fixes through every day, I'm told," Goldstone said. "It just seems to be working much smoother."

Wendy Curran, spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming, said Wednesday that her company also is seeing a small but marked increase in the number of applications it's seeing for enrollment through the federal system.

"We have received several applications in our office that actually had come from an agent's office in the state, a broker's agent, that were pretty timely," Curran said, adding she believes there may be more unprocessed applications pending.

Wyoming Insurance Commissioner Tom Hirsig, himself a veteran of the insurance industry, said Wednesday that although there have been improvements to the federal site, the enrollment numbers so far still aren't very good.

"I don't have any idea where we should be, except if there's 82,000 people that don't have insurance, I would certainly think it should be more than there is now," Hirsig said. Analysts have come up with the 82,000 uninsured figure out of the state's total population of over 560,000.

Hirsig noted that the federally approved health insurance plans don't take effect until Jan. 1. "And typically people don't by their insurance two months in advance," he said.