Politics blog

ACA enrollment surge brings total covered in private plans to 146,500

OlympianApril 1, 2014 

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange's offices in Olympia.

BRAD SHANNON — The Olympian

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange is reporting that a surge in signups since Thursday brought the statewide total of enrollments in private insurance plans to 146,497 as of the Monday night deadline. That figure included 8,000 that signed up on the final day of open enrollment to receive coverage in 2014 and avoid paying tax penalties next year

Enrollments are continuing throughout the year for low-income individuals who become eligible for Medicaid’s free care. In a sign the exchange is leading to coverage of more of Washington’s state’s uninsured, the state Health Care Authority reported Tuesday that enrollment of newly eligible adults has now reached 268,164 since the exchange opened Oct. 1. 

That Medicaid figure is nearly twice the state’s goal - set last year - for enrolling newly eligible adults into Medicaid by April 1. All told, more than 811,000 residents signed up or re-enrolled in Medicaid programs through the exchange, HCA said.

Despite the Monday deadline for buying private policies, some consumers eligible to buy private plans in the individual market also can still enroll. 

Richard Onizuka, chief executive for the Health Benefit Exchange, indicated the agency is softening its March 31 deadline to allow some additional people into the system. He’d said previously the agency would let in those whose applications had gotten stuck in the exchange website at Wahealthplanfinder.org, but the exchange is now allowing more time for those who could not get through to the WHBE’s backed-up call center in Spokane. 

Here is what Onizuka said in a news release late Monday about the softer stance on the March 31 deadline:

“We recently issued a statement that clarified we are not extending the March 31 deadline for Washington State residents seeking coverage through our state-based insurance marketplace, Washington Healthplanfinder. However, we noted that those who were unable to complete their enrollment would have their applications considered on a case-by-case basis. Given the overwhelming interest and volume we have seen both online and at the toll-free Customer Support Center today, we will work with those who were unable to complete and pay for their coverage prior to the deadline, were unable to reach the toll-free Customer Support Center or experienced other technological barriers to completing enrollment. While the Exchange will contact affected customers directly who experienced system errors, customers should call 1-855-923-4633 or email customersupport@wahbexchange.org to report their situation. As a reminder, those who qualify for Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) may enroll at any point during the year, as well as American Indians/Alaskan Natives and Indians eligible for services through an Indian health care provider. Customers who are able should complete the entire application process and submit payment by 11:59 pm on March 31 to qualify for coverage beginning May 1. Otherwise, customers may enroll during the next open enrollment period of Nov. 15, 2014 to Feb. 15, 2015 for coverage that takes effect in 2015.”      



The agency did not say what proof of problems a consumer must show to get consideration.

Onizuka and the agency took a harder line last week as outlined here.

The exchange has been under pressure from some state lawmakers and advocates to let more people in.

But exchange spokeswoman Bethany Frey said the change “was not due to pressure from outside groups or stakeholders, but a decision made by our leadership team in the spirit of helping our customers cross the finish line.”

As we reported Sunday, it may be a few weeks before the Office of the Insurance Commissioner can determine how many of the 146,000 new purchasers of private plans ere uninsured - and how many lost coverage when higher standards took effect under the Affordable Care Act. The OIC may not know until next year how much the exchange has reduced the state's roughly 990,000 uninsured.

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