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HealthCare Checkup

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

December 9, 2013 at 5:26 PM

State health-insurance exchange down again

Problems continued to plague Washington’s health-insurance exchange website on Monday, following four days last week when consumers could not use the site because it had been taken down for repairs.

The Washington Healthplanfinder site went back online  over the weekend, but it was taken down again this morning.

The problem last week was that users were running into intermittent slowness and brief outages.

The glitch today differed from the earlier problem, according to Bethany Frey, a spokeswoman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which operates Healthplanfinder. It stemmed from an outage at the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) Eligibility System, which is used to verify individuals’ eligibility for free and low-cost health-insurance coverage through the state’s online insurance marketplace, Frey said.

It was unclear this afternoon when the site would be brought back online.

The exchange posted an update at 2 p.m. indicating that the site was still down and that staff were “working with DSHS to determine when the site will be available again.”

The ongoing technical problems have created a serious obstacle for consumers hoping to sign up for health insurance coverage before the Dec. 23 deadline to enroll in coverage that begins Jan. 1.

With the website down, people who are shopping for coverage cannot go on the site to compare health plans, find out if they are eligible for Medicaid coverage or premium subsidies, or complete an online application.

That leaves paper applications as an alternative.

Frey noted that consumers “can still work on paper applications with a registered broker or navigator when the site is offline.”

Update, 5 p.m. Monday: A DSHS official said Monday the Department expects to fix the problem with its eligibility system by noon on Tuesday.

Once the problem is fixed at DSHS, Healthplanfinder will be able to function again, said Michael Marchand, a spokesman at the Exchange.

The problem at DSHS occurred Sunday, when the Department tried to update the databases for its eligibility system, according to Chris Case, senior director of public affairs. The update didn’t load properly, so the eligibility system was giving inaccurate information, she said.

DSHS decided to pulled down the database rather than send out inaccurate information.  That caused an outage on Healthplanfinder, because the two systems are interconnected.

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