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W.Va. submits plans for insurance marketplace

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Under a state plan, West Virginia's uninsured residents can sit down and receive one-on-one help in comparing health insurance plans.

This "in-person assistance," meant to help uninsured people purchase health insurance, is one piece of the state's blueprint for operating a health insurance marketplace. 

Under the Affordable Care Act, states must submit plans to the federal government about how they plan to participate in their own health insurance marketplace, formerly called exchanges.

Friday marked the deadline for states to submit a letter of declaration and a blueprint for their insurance marketplace.

States had the option to run the marketplace alone or to allow the federal government to run it. As expected, West Virginia officials submitted plans for the state and federal governments to jointly operate the Mountain State's health insurance marketplace.

Based on the state's blueprint, federal funding will allow West Virginia officials to hire and train people to help residents enroll in health insurance plans.

In-person assistance is important because surveys have shown that's what people want, said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

"It's really important that you have people paid to assist people in enrollment," he said.

How much federal money and how many workers the state will hire is not yet certain, said Jeremiah Samples of the West Virginia Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

"We have some internal projections," Samples said, "but nothing has been finalized."

Bryant said there likely would be between $4 million and $8 million to hire about 225 people statewide.

"They should be throughout the state," Bryant said of the workers who will help residents enroll.

He expects that some workers will be in Department of Health and Human Resources offices, some in community health centers, and -- he hopes -- some in family resource centers.

"Any place there's uninsured people, that's where they should be," Bryant said.

Those workers will help enroll between 46,000 and 100,000 people, depending on whether Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin agrees to expand Medicaid to those who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Some of those people will enroll online and others over the phone, Bryant said.

Enrollment in the marketplace is slated to begin Oct. 1, and new enrollees' insurance coverage will begin Jan. 1.

The state will have in-person assistance but it will not offer its own media campaign about the health insurance marketplace. Samples said that because the federal government will have its own mass-media campaign about the marketplace, state officials felt that a local media campaign would be a duplication of efforts.

"We'll make sure we're continuing to regulate insurance in West Virginia and providing assistance to citizens," Samples said. "The marketing campaign will be one the feds will undertake."

Bryant, however, said it's unfortunate the state turned down federal resources for its own media campaign. When Massachusetts rolled out its exchange, it effectively used a media campaign with the Boston Red Sox to target young, healthy people.

There will not be a problem getting older, sicker people to sign up, but in order for the system to work, it needs a mixture of older and young, sick and healthy, Bryant said.

"Unfortunately, we are not going to use federal resources to run that kind of effort," he said. "It would have been money well spent."

Samples said state officials have considered all the options and feel strongly about the choices they've made.

"We feel confident this is the most fiscally prudent course for the state to take," he said, "given all the options available."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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