Politics blog

Wash health exchange may be off line until Monday to fix problems that caused shutdowns since Tuesday

OlympianDecember 6, 2013 

Washington state’s health insurance exchange remained offline Friday afternoon, following a planned shutdown of the Healthplanfinder web site earlier in the week to tend to technical problems. The hope is it can be restored to service by Monday.

Technicians have been working over several days to upgrade the system, which Washington created to carry out health reform under Obamacare but was suffering intermittent outages and periods of slow operation. 

Officials at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange said their system was pulled offline at about 2 p.m. Tuesday, returned to service at around 6 p.m. that day and was pulled off line again at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. 

“Our hope is that with our weekend maintenance schedule – the DSHS eligibility system will be down on Sunday – our staff will be able to put in considerable effort toward having the site up and running by Monday,” spokeswoman Bethany Frey said late Friday afternoon by email.

She added that during the recent outage “we were able to key in a couple thousand applications at the call center and run batches of applications that previously haven’t been able to get through. So while this is not an ideal situation, not all is lost and we were able to get actually get many people’s applications moving through the system.”

The exchange reported earlier this week that 175,000 people have signed up for insurance since it opened for business on Oct. 1.  Almost 90 percent of enrollees are qualifying for Medicaid either immediately under current law or on Jan. 1 when Medicaid eligibility expands and just over 18,000 have signed up to buy private insurance plans. 

Although the exchange had a troubled debut on Oct. 1 and had to be shut down for several hours, the quasi-governmental agency running it has had fewer problems than the federal site serving states that chose not to set up their own exchanges

The exchange released this statement from Richard Onizuka, chief executive officer for the exchange, on Friday:

“This week, Washington Healthplanfinder customers experienced intermittent slowness and even brief outages as they attempted to complete applications online. To address these issues as quickly as possible, we have brought the site down so that we may better trouble-shoot and conduct necessary maintenance. “Over the past several days, Exchange IT staff have implemented a number of fixes to improve Washington Healthplanfinder’s performance. This included updates to our database, web servers, and a thorough investigation into several modifications made during recent planned weekend maintenance.

“We anticipate that Washington Healthplanfinder will see improved performance once back up and running. This includes smoother application flow and a speedier enrollment process.

“Thank you to everyone for their patience as our staff actively works on these issues. We remain committed to providing our customers with a smooth online experience and apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused. 

 “You may also visit a community organization or registered insurance broker to complete a paper application, as well as contact our toll-free Customer Support Center at 1-855-WAFINDER for general questions.  Residents may enroll by Dec. 23, 2013 for coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2014, but we look forward to working with residents through March 31, 2014 to enroll them in quality health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder.”

 

The exchange also was hit this week by new reports that some insurance plans it offers don’t cover services at a few key hospitals.

Stay tuned.

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