Glitch mars Washington Healthplanfinder tour

An event touting state's plan-finding program falls flat as the exchange goes offline

rboone@theolympian.comOctober 28, 2013 

A mobile tour rolled into the Olympia Farmers Market on Sunday, dispensing health care information and attempting to help folks sign up for health insurance — part of nationwide changes under the Affordable Care Act.

There was one major glitch, however: The Washington Healthplanfinder website — where consumers find and enroll in the health care plan of their choice — went down sometime Sunday morning, preventing anyone from enrolling for health care aboard a long trailer outfitted with about 20 laptop computers for just that purpose.

“Washington Healthplanfinder is temporarily unavailable due to an outage of the Federal Data Hub, which allows Washington Healthplanfinder to verify eligibility for free or low-cost health insurance,” read the message on the health benefit exchange website.

A check of the website about 10 p.m. Sunday showed that it was still down.

Bethany Frey, spokeswoman for Washington Health Benefit Exchange — the Olympia-based agency that teamed up with Washington Healthplanfinder to sponsor the statewide mobile tour — said it was frustrating for the site to go down during the day of an event.

Still, about 50 people showed up, either to get information, start the application process or schedule an appointment to do so, Frey said.

Washington Healthplanfinder has had a couple of hiccups since it was launched Oct. 1.

It had to be pulled offline to address computer glitches the first day of operation, and last week Health Benefit Exchange staff discovered and corrected tax-credit miscalculations.

Most people in the state are covered under an employer health insurance plan. There are thought to be about 1 million uninsured people in Washington.

Those who sign up are eligible for tax credits to offset the cost of their health insurance plan. A family of four making up to $94,000 a year is eligible for financial help, according to Health Benefit Exchange information.

Consumers can choose from eight health insurance carriers offering 46 plans, said Michael Marchand, Health Benefit Exchange director of communications, who was on hand for the Sunday morning mobile tour. About 35,000 have enrolled, while another 70,000 need to put the finishing touches on their applications, he said.

Among the frequently asked questions is whether someone who is unhappy with an existing insurance plan can get a policy through the exchange and still get a tax credit.

Yes, but only if current annual premiums cost more than 9.5 percent of income, or if current insurance doesn’t cover 10 essential health benefits such as prescription drug costs, doctor visits or maternity care, Marchand said.

The mobile tour began Oct. 16 in Spokane and will end Nov. 12 on the Seattle campus of the University of Washington. The next South Sound visit is Saturday at the Tacoma Mall.

For more information, go to www.wahealthplanfinder.org or call 1-855-WAFINDER from 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403
rboone@theolympian.com

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