ACA signups moving higher despite critics

While the GOP-controlled Congress fiddles with actions to repeal Obamacare without actually approving a replacement, Washington consumers are continuing to sign up for tax-subsidized plans.

As another deadline looms for health-insurance sign-ups on Saturday (Jan. 23), those on the front lines helping consumers say that many buyers are taking extra time to find the best deals.

“They are really trying to find the best affordable plan for their families,’’ says Jennifer Brackeen, program director for CHOICE Regional Health Network in Olympia. CHOICE is a nonprofit that is providing “navigator” assistance to consumers in nine counties in Southwest Washington and the Olympic Peninsula.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange has reported that more than 180,000 people signed up for individual plans offered by private insurers. The Affordable Care Act, which Democrats in Congress passed in 2010, provides tax subsidies for individuals needing to buy coverage in the individual market. The ACA also expanded Medicaid, the government-paid coverage that covers low-income persons, which has added 591,000 people to the coverage rolls in Washington alone since Oct. 1, 2013.

Consumers not already covered by government or employer plans can get signed up for individual coverage via the exchange’s online site at wahealthplanfinder.org or by calling the state’s toll free line at 855-923-4633 or TTY/TDD at 855-627-9604.

CHOICE also has a network of helpers or "navigators" serving nine counties –Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Grays Harbor, Cowlitz, Pacific, Wahkiakum, Jefferson and Clallam.

Those needing help figuring out which plan is the best fit can still get one-on-one assistance either by calling for an appointment via CHOICE’s toll-free line at 1-844-446-4367. The organization is also holding a number of sign-up events in the community through the end of the month.

Those eligible for Medicaid can sign up year round. Saturday is the deadline for purchased coverage that takes effect on Feb. 1; Jan. 31 is the deadline for coverage starting March 1.

CHOICE executive leader Winfried Danke says health care choices are so complex that having a navigator walk through options can be very helpful to consumers.

CHOICE is sponsoring a free drop-in event at South Puget Sound Community College, Building 22, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday (Jan. 22) and another at Capital Mall from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 23).

There are good reasons to get insured this year. Tax penalties are assessed on federal tax returns under the Affordable Care Act for those lacking coverage; fines go up on next year’s tax filings to 2.5 percent of one’s family income or $625.

For those who wait past Saturday, CHOICE has enrollment events next week for coverage that starts March 1:

▪ Monday, Jan. 25, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council.

▪ Monday, Jan. 25, 1-5 p.m., at the Thurston County Housing Authority.

▪ Wednesday, Jan. 27, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Pacific Mountain Workforce Development Council.

▪ Friday, Jan. 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at South Puget Sound Community College Bldg. 22.

The Affordable Care Act has benefited millions of Americans, and we hope the next president sworn in next January supports and improves it.

In the meantime, it makes sense to get covered.