Wyoming: Up to 600 Blackjewel miners to get SEP to enroll in healthcare coverage


I don't write about Wyoming very often, but this is an interesting tidbit which a reader brought to my attention:

Former Wyoming Blackjewel LLC coal miners who have been out of work since July 1 and without health insurance since their group health plan was canceled Aug. 31 can sign up for the federal health insurance marketplace retroactively to Sept. 1.

The Wyoming Department of Insurance has successfully lobbied the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to make an “exceptional circumstances” special enrollment period through Oct. 30, said Denise Burke, an attorney with the state Department of Insurance.

The exception allows former Blackjewel coal miners an option to buy health insurance off the marketplace and made it retroactively effective to Sept. 1, which means workers and family members with ongoing health issues can continue treatment as if they never lost insurance.

To clarify: "off the marketplace" actually means "on the marketplace" in this instance...that is, they can enroll via HealthCare.Gov using the Special Enrollment Period (SEP).

That CMS made the allowance for Blackjewel workers in Wyoming “is pretty extraordinary,” Burke said, adding that the Department of Insurance “had to advocate pretty hard for the miners.”

It sounds like the story is pretty ugly even beyond the health insurance situation:

Since nearly 600 Blackjewel employees at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in Campbell County were abruptly locked out of their jobs July 1, the workers have been in a legal limbo.

At first, they were unable to access their 401(k) retirement accounts to tide them over while waiting for a potential call back to work because the company contended they weren’t laid off, only furloughed, and were still considered employees. As the bankruptcy process progressed, the company’s group health insurance was canceled as of Aug. 31.

Because the plan was canceled and Blackjewel is insolvent and in bankruptcy, employees did not have the option to extend their health coverage through COBRA, which would’ve allowed workers to extend their health coverage for up to 18 months after losing their jobs.

When their health coverage ended Aug. 31, a 60-day grace period began for former coal miners to buy private health care coverage or enroll through the federal marketplace.

On the surface, this may sound confusing--anyone who loses their employer-sponsored coverage through no fault of their own is always given a 60-day SEP regardless of the circumstances...but normally, enrolling in late September would mean your coverage wouldn't actually kick in untl November 1st:

While that grace period remains, in this case it’s Oct. 30, the “exceptional circumstances” waiver by CMS will allow people to enroll any time before that date with an option to make coverage retroactive to Sept. 1, Burke said.

While that also means paying for September under whatever plan is chosen, it will help some workers and their families dealing with ongoing serious medical issues that can’t be treated without continuous coverage, she said. With this, it would be like their coverage hadn’t been interrupted.

“This gives them some options they didn’t have before,” she said.

The exception basically means any former Wyoming Blackjewel employee signing up for marketplace health care coverage will have two tracks to choose from. One is to make it retroactive and the other allows a choice of when coverage will begin.

In other words, these particular employees can choose to make their coverage kick in effective September 1st or November 1st (I presume they can start it October 1st as well if they prefer).

If they want to go the normal SEP route, they would just visit HealthCare.Gov and follow the normal SEP instructions.

If they want to go the retroactive September start route, they have to:

  • Call the Wyoming Department of Insurance (DOI) at (307) 777-7401 or at (800) 318-2596.
  • Identify themselves as an individual whose coverage through Black Jewel / Revelation was terminated on August 31st, and that they are seeking to enroll in a Marketplace plan with a September 1st start date.
  • Complete an application, and indicate that you lost coverage within the last 60 days.
  • DOI staff will help you secure a Marketplace ID number and begin the application process.
  • The Department of Insurance will provide CMS with information regarding each request for SEP retroactive enrollment that will be evaluated by a CMS caseworker (which may take several days).
  • CMS will send applicants an eligibility notice by U.S. mail that will tell them whether they qualify for the SEP, and if appropriate, with additional instructions for how to finalize enrollment in coverage through www.healthcare.gov

The policies can also cover dependents, of course, so this could theoretically provide up to perhaps 1,500 or so people with exchange coverage.

In a testament to how tiny Wyoming's population is, if all 1,500 Blackjewel employees/famly members were to take advantage of this, it would increase Wyoming's total ACA exchange enrollment for 2019 by something like 7%.