In the last few days that people can buy health insurance for this year, the state is at last seeing a surge in sign ups.
So how fast are people scrambling to get coverage? In the past three days, nearly 6,000 people have bought insurance — approximately the same number of sign ups as were completed the first two weeks of March. About 131,000 people have purchased insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s insurance exchange.
State officials are still ramping up their advertising and outreach to get as many people as possible enrolled by the March 31 deadline.
“The need is to create a sense of urgency,” Michael Marchand, spokesman for the exchange, explained Thursday to the board of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which oversees the marketplace.
The effort includes flying airplanes towing banners over Seattle and Tacoma urging people to buy insurance, more videos from a somewhat controversial ad campaign featuring fake rap artists, promotions through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and ads targeting under-served Hispanic and African American residents.
In the first two weeks of March, roughly 425 people per day were enrolling through the exchange, while more than 1,500 per day on average have bought plans the past two weeks.
In addition to an increase in sign ups overall, younger residents are enrolling at an even faster pace, said Richard Onizuka, chief executive officer of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which operates Healthplanfinder.
With the new data released Thursday, the state has finally surpassed its Jan. 1 target of 130,000 enrollees. Their goal is to have 280,000 participants by next January. The exchange will open again in November for coverage that starts in 2015. Most people who fail to get insurance by the end of the month face penalties, as required by the Affordable Care Act.
Community and health organizations statewide are hosting enrollment events through Monday to assist people who still want insurance.
There will be a sign up Saturday afternoon at the Seattle downtown library, Sunday at the St. Vincent de Paul food bank in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, and all day Monday at the Public Health — Seattle & King County downtown Seattle headquarters. Residents can get specific information about these and many other King County events here, and learn about events around the state here.
In addition to buying plans through Healthplanfinder, residents can also shop for insurance through brokers or from insurance companies. However, only plans purchased through the exchange are eligible for tax breaks that reduce premium costs and the amount people must spend on deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Residents who try to sign up for an insurance plan through the exchange but get tripped up on the website because of technical problems will be able to request more time for getting covered. State officials say they will verify that the applicant truly attempted to enroll and got a computer error message.
People in the 36 states with federally run exchanges will have an easier time getting extensions for finishing the enrollment process, Obama administration officials announced this week.
Compared with the federal sites, Washington’s Healthplanfinder has run into fewer technical glitches since the marketplaces launched Oct. 1. But many people in the state have struggled to enroll, and the Healthplanfinder help center had received more than 1.7 million calls by the end of February.