CHARLESTON, W.Va. --More than 11,000 people have enrolled in Affordable Care Act-approved plans since the law's rollout Oct. 1, according to the only insurance company involved in the state's marketplace.
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield said 11,937 West Virginians have enrolled in ACA-compliant plans with the insurance agency since open enrollment began Oct. 1. Of those, 8,711 have enrolled through the exchange on www.Healthcare.gov and 3,226 have enrolled directly with Highmark.
Fred Earley, president of Highmark West Virginia, said the increase in enrollment has been constant since the issues surrounding Healthcare.gov, the federal insurance marketplace website, were fixed in December. There are less than seven weeks left until the March 31 enrollment deadline.
"The Healthcare.gov website is clearly operational at a level it wasn't originally; they've gotten over a lot of the initial problems they've had," Earley said. "We also have a great deal of resources in the communities to help people enroll, as well as our own resources here to help them through the product-selection process, either on or off the exchange."
According to the agency, 57 percent of those who have enrolled are new customers who have either transferred from a competitor or are enrolling for the first time. Kristin Ash, spokeswoman for Highmark, said the other 43 percent are current policyholders who have elected to switch from an old plan to one compatible with the ACA. Ash added that those with policies that do not comply with ACA standards have until January 2015 to switch to a new policy.
"What that means is that those individuals were offered the opportunity to keep their old plan for one more year," Ash said. "They were individuals who already had a plan with us and decided to opt with a new plan, not because they were forced to do so."
The Gazette reported in December that 1,237 West Virginians enrolled in plans through the federal exchange between Oct. 1 and Dec. 10, one week after problems with the federal government's website were reported fixed. Highmark is the state's largest insurer, with 275,000 customers, and its 8,711 new enrollees represent more than 3 percent of its customer base.
Earley said the majority of Highmark West Virginia's old insurance plans are not compatible with the ACA, and customers will have to choose a new plan by December, which likely will represent another spike in enrollment. Highmark West Virginia offers gold, silver, bronze and catastrophic plans, and Earley said the agency's silver plans have been the most popular coverage option.
According to Jeremiah Samples, assistant secretary for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, between the increase in private insurance enrollment and new enrollment in the state's Medicaid expansion, the number of uninsured West Virginians has dropped from 13.5 percent to 4.2 percent of the population.
"We are a national leader," said Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. "On a percentage basis, we are doing better than any other state in the country with expanded Medicaid."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced in May that West Virginia would expand Medicaid coverage for those who make 138 percent of the national poverty rate. In August, the DHHR combed through its database of those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Women, Infants and Children Benefits and those who were already enrolled in Medicaid and contacted them about their expanded Medicaid eligibility.