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HealthCare Checkup

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

March 12, 2014 at 2:56 PM

Washington insurance sales beat most other states

New Medicaid enrollments are coming in faster than people buying insurance coverage through Washington's Healthplanfinder. Data is through March 6.

New Medicaid enrollments are coming in faster than people buying insurance coverage through Washington’s Healthplanfinder. Data are through March 6.

Nearly 800,000 people have used Washington’s insurance exchange to purchase health insurance or enroll in Medicaid.

More than 109,000 residents have bought coverage through Healthplanfinder, while nearly 223,000 adults who now qualify for Medicaid under the recent expansion signed up for free medical care. The remaining nearly half a million enrollees include people renewing their existing Medicaid coverage and those who were previously eligible but had not signed up.

While the state hasn’t reached its sales targets for the exchange, Washington remains a national leader for getting people insured under the Affordable Care Act. A nationwide analysis finds that more than 21 percent of potential exchange enrollees have purchased plans through Healthplanfinder. Nationally, 15 percent of likely consumers have enrolled, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Only five states are beating Washington’s enrollment rate: Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, California and Idaho.

However, the rate at which people are actually purchasing insurance in these states is potentially much lower. The 15 percent national figure includes people who have signed up for insurance, but not yet paid for it. Washington’s 21 percent is a more robust tally, capturing only the people who have made an initial payment.

Uninsured Americans have until March 31 to sign up for health insurance or coverage through a government program such as Medicare or Medicaid. Insurance purchased by March 23 starts on April 1. Insurance purchased after that starts May 1. To avoid a penalty under the Affordable Care Act, insurance must be bought by the end of March.

People can shop through the state’s insurance exchange, or outside of the marketplace, but only plans bought through the exchange are eligible for tax subsidies, which lower their price.

State officials are urging people to enroll before the end of the month, and there are multiple sign-up events where exchange “navigators” will be available to help people maneuver the website and purchase insurance. Additionally, brokers offer free assistance to people buying coverage inside or outside of the exchange.

In April, individual insurance will no longer be for sale, except in special situations, such as when someone divorces, moves or loses their job. Enrollment for Medicaid — called Apple Health in Washington — continues year-round.

The state already has met its April enrollment goals for all but Skamania, Whitman and Kittitas counties — and even there it’s  close to hitting them. In King County, twice the number of people have joined Medicaid as aimed for and in San Juan County, the number of new enrollees is triple the state’s goal.

In addition to the newly eligible participants, 115,000 people who formerly qualified for Medicaid but hadn’t signed up are also now enrolled, according to the Health Care Authority, which manages Medicaid.

Tuesday, the Obama administration released national enrollment data. By the end of February, 4.2 million people had enrolled in either the federally-run or state insurance exchanges.

The government hoped to sign up 6 million people by the end of March, but it seems unlikely to reach that goal.

In 36 states, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is operating the insurance exchange, while Washington is one of 14 states running its own marketplace. The states with their own exchanges have seen better participation than the federally run exchanges. In fact, if people were signing up at the rate seen in the locally managed exchanges, 5.9 million people would now be enrolled nationwide, according to Kaiser researcher Larry Levitt.

Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, health insurance, Medicaid

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