Many uninsured residents appear to be waiting until the last moment to enroll through Washington’s health insurance exchange. More than 112,000 people have purchased insurance through the state marketplace, but by the middle of the month, the state still hadn’t seen an uptick in the rate of enrollment.
Uninsured Americans have until March 31 to buy health insurance, or face a penalty under the Affordable Care Act.
“Like with filing taxes or returning a movie, people wait until the last minute,” said Bethany Frey, a spokeswoman for the state’s exchange, called Washington Healthplanfinder. “We do expect to still have some kind of a bump as we get closer to the deadline.”
Since the beginning of the year, more than 580 people per day on average have bought insurance through the exchange. In December, there was a surge in signups from people who wanted insurance that started Jan. 1. During the first three weeks of that month, close to 1,900 people per day were enrolling.
Some people are trying to sign up, but get stuck in the application process. By last week, callers to the state’s toll-free help line were waiting 54 minutes on average to get their questions answered. Already this week the volume of callers has gone up, Frey said. The exchange has been adding staff to the call center, but wait times could get get worse.
Officials urge uninsured residents to start their applications as soon as possible. If people need help, trained “navigators” can help them maneuver the exchange website. Some hospitals and community groups have navigators available onsite on a regular basis, while other other organizations are hosting special signup events where navigators can answer questions.
Another alternative for people seeking help is to contact a broker, who can provide free assistance for people buying insurance inside or outside of the exchange.
(See our tips for signing up here, including links to help you find navigators and brokers.)
The number of Medicaid enrollees has also continued to climb. More than 235,000 people who recently became eligible for the program, expanded under the Affordable Care Act, have now signed up. An additional 122,000 have enrolled who were previously eligible, but had not participated.
People signing up for insurance plans that potentially qualify for tax subsidies and folks signing up or re-enrolling in Medicaid all go through the state’s Healthplanfinder website. More than 840,000 people have signed up for health care through the site since October.