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HealthCare Checkup

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

January 28, 2014 at 12:39 PM

Obamacare enrollment continues to climb in Washington state

Source: Data from Washington Healthplanfinder and Washington Health Care Authority, through Jan. 23.

Source: Data from Washington Healthplanfinder and Washington Health Care Authority, through Jan. 23.

More than 320,000 people have signed up for insurance or newly enrolled in Medicaid through Washington’s online health insurance exchange.

Of that number, more than 86,000 are now covered by private insurance purchased through the exchange, according to state data ending Jan. 23. The rest are new participants in Medicaid.

Most of the enrollees who are signed up for private insurance will receive tax breaks to help pay for their insurance premiums. Many are also eligible for subsidies that reduce their out-of-pocket costs for medical bills.

The rate of enrollment was initially slow after the exchange launched Oct. 1. As was the case for websites around the nation, the state’s online exchange — Washington Healthplanfinder — was plagued with technical problems in the first few weeks of operation.

In December, the number of people purchasing plans spiked as the site improved and as people scrambled to get insurance coverage that began the first of the year.

While some are pleased with the exchange and other changes implemented by the Affordable Care Act, there is still plenty of frustration. Financial help is available for some people, but others are being hit with higher-than-expected insurance costs and struggle to find a plan they like. The state continues to make improvements to the website and is training more workers to staff its toll-free help line, but it can take callers 40 minutes or more to get the answers they need.

People have until March 31 to buy health insurance if they want coverage during 2014 — and to avoid a penalty for being uninsured.

Data released today show that in addition to approximately 237,000 new Medicaid enrollees, about 234,000 people renewed their Medicaid coverage through Healthplanfinder. The new enrollees include people who formerly qualified for Medicaid but did not sign up, and those who can now get free health care thanks to the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid, called Apple Health in Washington state, provides free medical care for low-income children and adults. Eligible low-income residents can enroll in Medicaid at any time.

A key goal of the Affordable Care Act is to shrink the number of uninsured Americans. Roughly 1 million Washington residents were uninsured before the exchange launched in October.

There are data indicating that formerly uninsured people are signing up for Medicaid, but it’s unclear if those buying insurance through the exchange were formerly uninsured or previously had insurance. In addition to the exchange, individuals can also buy insurance through brokers or directly from insurance companies.

With 86,000 enrollees, the state is less than one-third of the way toward its goal of insuring 280,000 people through the exchange by the end of the year. Officials have already met their near-term targets for increasing the number of people covered through Medicaid, and expect to make their long-term goals as well.

0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, Apple Health, health insurance

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