Washington Healthplanfinder launch a success overall, official says

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldNovember 2, 2013 

The new state-based health insurance marketplace has hit bumps in its first month, but a local official on the front lines of enrollment said overall the launch has gone well.

"It's not perfect but it is improving. We expect within the next month or so that things will be even smoother," said Wes Luckey, director of the in-person assister program for Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. In-person assisters are trained to help the uninsured navigate the online marketplace. So far about 80 people in the three counties have gone through assister training.

The online marketplace, Washington Healthplanfinder, which is operated by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, launched Oct. 1. Since then, thousands have logged on to enroll in coverage.

Figures released last week put the total number of completed enrollments through Oct. 25 at 48,995 statewide, with the biggest portion being those who signed up for Medicaid after becoming newly eligible through a federally-funded expansion. (Washington is one of the states that opted to accept the expansion).

In Benton and Franklin counties, more than 700 newly eligible adults have enrolled in Medicaid. A county-by-county breakdown of those who've purchased qualified health plans through the marketplace wasn't available.

Officials have said Washington has about 1 million uninsured, including an estimated 52,700 in Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, most Americans must have health insurance by next year or face fines. States could set up their own exchanges, partner with the feds or use the federal exchange. Washington chose a state-based exchange.

And while Washington Healthplanfinder has experienced issues -- including some technical problems and a tax-credit calculation error that affected about 8,000 applicants -- it's fared better than the federal exchange website, which has been the subject of recent congressional hearings.

About half of the 80 people who've been through local in-person assister training so far have taken and passed the test to become certified, Luckey said last week. Some of those are waiting on passwords and log-ins for the marketplace site, he said.

An overall count wasn't available last week of how many people in the Tri-City area have signed up for health coverage with help from local in-person assisters. A spokeswoman for Tri-Cities Community Health in Pasco, which sent multiple staffers through the training, told the Herald that it's helped about 200 people enroll in coverage.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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