Politics & Government

Health exchange offers new 60-day enrollment period for consumers whose online applications went haywire

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange is offering consumers an extra 60 days to enroll for private health insurance plans if their earlier applications got tangled in the online system.

Late Tuesday afternoon had been the deadline for consumers to buy private plans that would take effect Jan. 1. Those eligible for the extension now have until Feb. 23 to apply for coverage retroactive to Jan. 1.

The exchange agency said it enrolled 92,000 people for private insurance plans before Tuesday’s last-day surge for the second year of coverage. The exchange also reported that prior to Tuesday only 70,000 out of 130,000 had renewed the insurance they bought in 2014.

“We want to make sure that every eligible customer is able to receive Jan. 1 coverage,” Richard Onizuka, chief executive for the exchange, said in a statement. “However, it’s important that these individuals follow our special enrollment process to ensure we are able to facilitate their request.”

The changes head off threatened action by state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler to issue emergency rules giving potentially 5,000 consumers help with the flawed system, which has been beset with billing and payment errors for many months. “The 60 days and retroactive coverage look like a very reasonable approach,’’ Kreidler spokesman Steve Valandra said.

The exchange said the special enrollment period starts at noon Wednesday (Dec. 23), letting customers enter an online request form for Jan. 1 coverage at petition.wahealthplanfinder.org. The agency’s customer support center also has a toll free number – 1-855-923-4633 – and inquiries were to be considered individually for eligibility.

The exchange cautioned that consumers might have to pay “the full cost of treatment or prescription medications they receive until their retroactive coverage is confirmed with their insurance company. However, they will be entitled to reimbursement for covered services from covered providers in their health plan.”

Those who aren’t eligible for the extension can still get coverage, although not as quickly. Enrollments are continuing through Jan. 23 for coverage effective Feb. 1 and through Feb. 15 for coverage effective March 1.

The exchange was created in October 2013 as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the federal health reform law adopted by Congress in 2010.

The exchange is available for individuals not covered by employer plans. Its online site at wahealthplanfinder.org also serves as a portal for those wanting to enroll in Medicaid, the shared state-federal program that provides coverage for poor and low-income households. The exchange has reported that 480,000 people have lined up Medicaid coverage through the exchange.

Those who have employer insurance, coverage through the military, retirees and disabled persons covered by federal Medicare are not affected by the exchange or its deadlines.

Kreidler and Gov. Jay Inslee’s health reform adviser Bob Crittenden had been encouraging the exchange to offer more time to consumers that fell victim to the many technical glitches that have plagued insurance billings and payments through the exchange.

The exchange’s board narrowly voted last week to eventually end the practice of collecting premiums at the exchange and instead letting insurers do it directly.

The public-private partnership that runs the exchange also has withheld payments to Deloitte, the information technology vendor that created the exchange, after glitches caused the cancellation of 6,000 applications earlier in the month.