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HealthCare Checkup

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

April 1, 2014 at 5:02 PM

Insurance enrollment spikes on final day; state softens stance on extensions

Procrastinators gave a giant bump to the number of health plans sold through Washington’s new exchange, with 8,000 people enrolling during the final day of sign ups.

By the close of the Affordable Care Act’s first enrollment period on March 31, more than 146,000 residents bought insurance through the Washington Healthplanfinder. Nationally, the White House tweeted that more than 7 million people had signed up.

Source: Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Source: Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Additionally, 268,000 Washington residents who are newly eligible for Medicaid coverage signed up by March 27, the most current date available. That’s nearly twice the enrollment goal set by the state.

Healthplanfinder is the portal for both insurance and Medicaid enrollment. When you add up the private insurance plans and the new and former Medicaid participants, more than 950,000 people signed up for health-care through the site over the past six months.

Additionally, people have purchased insurance outside of the exchange, either through brokers or directly from insurance companies. The state has not released current data on their numbers.

And there are still people shopping with the exchange who ran into online errors and have not completed the enrollment process.

On Tuesday, Richard Onizuka, chief executive officer for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, said they’d be more lenient than initially indicated in deciding who would get extensions if they missed the Monday enrollment deadline.

“We’ll be pretty flexible in the process,” he said, “But the people still need to do a lot of things to get enrolled.” That includes choosing a plan and making the first premium payment.

“If they’re in the system, we’ll reach out to a lot of them,” Onizuka said. “If they think they’re in the system they can reach out to us, and we can evaluate.”

Earlier, the Obama administration issued a broad list of reasons for granting extensions to people in the 36 states that are using the federally-managed exchange. As with Washington state’s criteria they cover people who run into computer problems with the exchange, but also include folks who suffer natural disasters, domestic abuse and other reasons.

In Washington, residents can request extensions by calling 1-855-923-4633 or emailing

And remember, there are other exceptions to the open enrollment rule.

First, people who have big life changes — divorce, moving to another state, losing a job, having a baby — will be able to buy a health insurance plan whenever that change occurs. There’s a whole slew of “qualifying events” that allow someone to sign up when enrollment is technically closed.

Second, Medicaid enrollment never closes, so if someone qualifies for free health care or their income drops below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (that’s approximately $16,000  for an individual), they can get on the exchange and sign up.

Open enrollment for everyone opens again Nov. 15 to Feb. 15, 2015.



Comments | Topics: Affordable Care Act, deadline, enrollment


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