The Politics Blog

Wash. Healthplanfinder reports 35,528 health enrollees, plus 40,400 completed applications in queue

OlympianOctober 21, 2013 

Richard Onizuka

PETER HALEY — The News Tribune

As problems continue nationally with federally run health-insurance exchanges and President Obama is admitting flaws with the web site, Washington's state-run Healthplanfinder site is still making steady, modest headway getting people signed up for coverage in 2014.

The online exchange is not proceeding without hitches. Spokeswoman Bethany Frey with the Washington Health Benefit Exchange said Monday that waiting times at the exchange’s call center are still too long – averaging 21 minutes – due to heavy demand. 

But steps are being taken at the center to beef up responses and shorten the delays, Frey said.

On a brighter note, the exchange reported Monday in a news release that 35,528 Washingtonians have signed up for coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act since the exchanges began enrolling on Oct. 1. The Washington exchange received national attention early on for having fewer problems and more success than the federal exchanges.

And in a sign things could get better with enrollments, the health exchange also has an additional 40,400 completed applications covering 56,000 individuals that are one step away from becoming full enrollments. All that’s needed to complete those is payment of a first month’s premium. 

Richard Onizuka, chief executive for Healthplanfinder and the exchange, said in a statement: 

“It’s clear that residents here in Washington are very interested in this new opportunity and the health insurance options that are available … We are continuing to reach out to individuals through a statewide advertising campaign, our community partners and insurance brokers and most recently our mobile enrollment tour, which kicked off last week.”
Of the more than 35,000 people enrolled for coverage so far, more than half or 19,658 were enrolled in Medicaid and will start getting free health coverage on Jan. 1. That new coverage is available under the ACA’s expansion of the taxpayer-funded Medicaid program that provides health care to the poor, and starting in January it covers childless adults for the first time. It also provides a slightly higher income cap for all Americans than before. 

Washington also has enrolled another 11,341 people in Medicaid instantly through the state Health Care Authority. These are people who already qualified under old rules but had not applied previously.

As in other states, Medicaid enrollments are far outnumbering the enrollments in private insurance plans through the exchanges. That has been the case in Washington, and a large share of pending enrollments are for Medicaid-eligible residents, too.

The 40,400 pending applications for health coverage include potential coverage for 16,669 people through private plans and another 13,816 through Medicaid. Another large batch is applications for multiple persons on a single app that includes both private coverage and Medicaid. If all of these applications are eventually turned into enrollments, this would add 56,000 to the coverage rolls.

In Washington, the deadline for enrolling for Jan. 1 coverage falls on Dec. 23. Frey said the exchange expects enrollment figures to climb especially as the deadlines draw nearer.

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