Politics blog

Wash. health exchange reports 164,062 signed up for private plans

The OlympianApril 23, 2014 

Washington Health Benefit Exchange offices in Olympia.

BRAD SHANNON — The Olympian

Updated version.

More than 164,000 state residents signed up to buy private-sector health plans under the Affordable Care Act before enrollment for coverage in 2014 ended last month. The Washington Health Benefit Exchange released a report Wednesday that showed details from the open-enrollment period that began Oct. 1.

The report said enrollees’ average plan cost was nearly $107 per month for those plans receiving a tax credit from the federal government, and tax credits averaged $276 a month, the agency said.

The total enrolled for private plans is 17,000 more than what the exchange previously noted through March 31, the deadline for most signups in 2014. Of the total getting private plans, 12,784 were from Pierce County and 5,057 were in Thurston County.

More than half of applicants bought silver-rated policies – which are mid-range plans that cover about 70 percent of heath care costs and leave 30 percent for the consumer. The exchange said in a news release that about 25 percent of enrollments were by younger adults, those ages 18-34.

“We are thrilled to be able to finish this first enrollment period on a high note,” exchange chief executive Richard Onizuka said in a statement. “These past six months have been both exciting and challenging, but we’re pleased with the number of individuals who were able to access coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder in such a short time frame.”

The private plan signups are in addition to the 318,677 newly eligible adults that also signed up for Medicaid through the exchange. The Medicaid enrollment has run far faster than anyone expected – with figures through April 17 running 25 percent ahead of the January 2018 goal, which was 252,576 newly eligible adults.

With at least 137,930 previously eligible people also signing up for Medicaid for the first time, the state has now extended coverage to roughly 620,000 people via the exchange since Wahealthplanfinder.org opened for business online on Oct. 1. Statewide there were about 990,000 uninsured as of 2012, according to the state insurance commissioner.

The Office of the Insurance Commissioner is still trying to calculate how many who lost policies - under ACA's higher standards requiring emergency room and prescription drug coverage - and are now covered. But OIC says the private insurance market for individuals covers at least 45,000 more people than it did before the exchange opened for business on Oct. 1.

Another 416,852 adults and others have re-upped Medicaid enrollments since Oct. 1 using the exchange. As a result, the quasi-governmental health exchange says it has connected more than 1 million people with coverage.

The Health Care Authority, which manages Medicaid programs, says that the 1 million includes 101,998 Pierce County residents and 30,031 Thurston County residents enrolled or re-enrolled in various Medicaid options.

Washington’s exchange has had glitches – most of them in the first weeks of the launch – but fared better than most of the roughly two dozen states setting up their own exchanges. An exception to Washington’s good record was the Spokane-based call center, which a private company opened on a public-paid contract, which at times told callers to try back later.

In its six-month report, the exchange reported it has received about 2.5 million calls through March 31, deferring three times as many as it was able to initially handle. The report said waiting times for callers averaged 5 minutes for the initial call-in, but the wait to talk to a second person was still averaging about 52 minutes.

The health exchange, the state Health Care Authority and Gov. Jay Inslee participated in a news event in Seattle to announce the findings, which include demographic and county-by-county data.

The event also singled out efforts by people known as “navigators” who did outreach in communities to alert residents of their health care options and also helped thousands on a one-on-one basis, in person, to fill out application forms.

Inslee said in a statement: “This successful year would not have been possible without the boots on the ground – the thousands of dedicated individuals from all over the state who provided in-person enrollment assistance day after day ... These efforts were critical to our enrollment success and made an enormous difference in peoples’ lives.”

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