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HealthCare Checkup

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

February 25, 2014 at 7:32 PM

With deadline in sight, health-insurance signups rise steadily

With little more than a month to go before the March 31 cutoff to sign up for health insurance this year, Washington Healthplanfinder has passed a milestone, with more than 100,000 residents now enrolled in commercial health plans through the state’s online marketplace.

Signups for the expanded Medicaid program topped 202,000 newly eligible adults as of Feb. 20, plus another 102,000 people who had been eligible before the expansion but hadn’t enrolled.

For health-plan coverage this year, residents must sign up during the open-enrollment period, which ends March 31, to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that most individuals  have health insurance coverage or pay a penalty. Medicaid (Washington Apple Health) does not have an open-enrollment period, so people can qualify or renew throughout the year.

Some people are still mulling their choices. For them, Public Health – Seattle & King County has published a guide to the “metal levels” that group insurance plans to help shoppers compare. But plans vary — sometimes by a lot – in provider networks, co-payment and co-insurance specifics and other features, so shop wisely.

The Healthplanfinder folks advise not waiting until the last minute to sign up. Call centers handled over 110,360 calls last month, and while average wait time to get to a representative was under two minutes, after menu selection, the wait to get assistance in specific areas was 45 minutes. Some stubborn glitches remain for a small percentage of applications, and Washington Health Benefit Exchange CEO Richard Onizuka says exchange staff continue to troubleshoot and resolve them.

In a detailed report on signups through January, the exchange said the most popular health plans were in the mid-range “silver” level. About three-quarters of those who signed up for plans received tax credits, and more than half of those were under 250 percent of the poverty level, or just over $29,000 a year for an individual and about $59,600 for a family of four).

Nearly 36 percent were age 55-64, with under 23 percent age 18-34.  For both Medicaid and private plans, the majority of applications were for one person.

Consultants in 2011 projected that by the end of 2014, about 280,000 Washington residents would be signed up for private health-insurance plans for coverage beginning in 2015.

Will we have kicked that number through the goalpost when enrollment for 2015 ends? It’s an important figure, because it underlies calculations showing how Washington’s exchange can become self-sustaining. By law, exchanges must do that, one way or another, by next Jan. 1.

0 Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, Richard Onizuka, Washington Health Benefit Exchange

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