CASPER — Open enrollment began for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s exchanges last week, with relatively stable premium prices bringing some small relief to Wyoming consumers.
Premium rates on the exchange are remaining fairly stable heading into 2019, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield and the state Department of Insurance. Last year, amid uncertainty from Washington as lawmakers considered a slew of ACA replacements, Blue Cross Blue Shield announced a significant increase to Wyoming’s exchange plans. As a result, a silver plan for a 40-year-old nonsmoking Wyomingite is among the most expensive in the nation.
So far this year, there has been nothing like the legislative policy debates that were swirling around the ACA last year. That explains why the exchanges have stabilized this year, Blue Cross Blue Shield vice president Wendy Curran said.
“We already as a company have taken that unpredictable bump out in our last year’s rates,” she said Thursday. “Now that landscape has stayed fairly stable.”
Premiums are expected to decrease by 0.27 percent overall, essentially flat.
“I am pleased to see the 2019 rates show that the Wyoming market is stabilizing,” state Insurance Commissioner Tom Glause said in a statement announcing the premium rates in August. “While not every consumer will see their rates decrease, this is a significant change from last year and from the double-digit increases in previous years.”
It’s unclear how many Wyomingites have already signed up for open enrollment, which lasts until Dec. 15. Dennis Delpizzo, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that data will likely be available in week three of enrollment.
Nationally, 371,676 people signed up during the first three days of open enrollment, according to CMS.
Monica Jennings Woodard works for Cheyenne Regional Medical Center and helps Wyomingites navigate the enrollment process via a federal grant. The program has been hit hard in recent years by federal funding cuts; Jennings Woodard said in earlier years, navigators would be able to visit each of Wyoming’s counties multiple times. Last year, the goal was to hit every one once, with multiple visits for the areas with high populations or a high number of uninsured people.
This year, she said the program has “really leaned” on community groups certified to help people sign up.
“The way we serve is different, but the idea of providing support hasn’t changed,” she said.
Jennings Woodard said this year was further complicated by a late renewal of the grant. Typically, she said, the program will have its travel schedule built out in the spring. This year, the grant wasn’t re-approved until September. She’s been receiving calls from communities asking if the group is still around or visiting. She said she wasn’t sure why the grants were awarded later this year.
“I want (Wyomingites) to be reassured that we’re still here and we’re still helping folks out and we won’t turn away anybody,” she said.
Health Affairs reported in July that the navigator program will be cut further going forward. Since President Donald Trump took office, the national program’s funding has been slashed by roughly 84 percent.
Glause, the insurance commissioner, told lawmakers last month that his department was working on a federal CMS waiver that would allow the state to explore methods to cut premium prices, as Alaska successfully has. That proposal, which Gov.-elect Mark Gordon has expressed support for, would need legislative approval.