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HealthCare Checkup

The Seattle Times health-care team tracks the local impact of the Affordable Care Act.

September 30, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Getting word out remains a key challenge for health exchange, state senator says

On the eve of launching the state’s online insurance marketplace, state and local leaders gathered in downtown Seattle for a media event attended by a bevy of TV, radio and print reporters.

Questions centered on whether the new health-care exchange, called Washington Healthplanfinder, is prepared to handle all of the business that will soon come its way, starting Tuesday morning, when the Healthplanfinder website is scheduled to go live.

Officials with the Washington Health Benefit Exchange assured reporters that the Healthplanfinder website is ready for launch.

But state Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, redirected the Q&A to a different concern. “Our real struggle is to get the word out that we are doing this and that people will be able to have affordable health care,” she said.

Keiser, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health Care Committee, noted that public awareness about key aspects of the federal Affordable Care Act remains very low.

“It’s incredible how few people really even know the Affordable Care Act is law and that it is under way,” she said. “Unfortunately, all of the controversy and political in-fighting that has gone on has caused confusion.”

That confusion is reflected in polling results released over the weekend by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In a nationwide poll of more than 1,500 adults conducted between Sept. 12 and Sept. 18, only 15 percent of respondents were aware the new online insurance marketplaces are scheduled to open this week.

Among the uninsured, who are the main group the Affordable Care Act is intended to help, only 12 percent were aware the exchanges are opening this week.

Exchange officials said they do not expect huge enrollment numbers right away.

“Success will not be defined in the first six hours” after Healthplanfinder opens, said Michael Marchand, communications director for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. “Success will be defined in the first six months.”

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