A week into the state-based health insurance exchange’s second open enrollment period, local help centers are seeing people come in for assistance — but plenty of appointments still are available.
The enrollment center at Community Action Connections in Pasco is open during business hours weekdays to help people navigate the online health insurance marketplace, Washington Healthplanfinder.
Tri-Cities Community Health in Pasco also has an enrollment center that’s open similar hours.
Both centers debuted last year, in time for the exchange’s first open enrollment period. They stayed open once the period ended, helping people sign up for Medicaid — enrollment in that program is year-round — as well as those able to buy private plans outside of open enrollment because of a qualifying event such as a marriage or birth of a child.
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The CAC center has seen an uptick in business since Nov. 15, when the current open enrollment period started, although the volume is lower than during last year’s open enrollment, said Wes Luckey, director of the CAC-based Navigator In-Person Assister Program for Benton, Franklin and Walla Walla counties. Al Cordova, Tri-Cities Community Health CEO, reported a similar trend.
Both said they expect to see volumes pick up as the enrollment period continues through Feb. 15.
During open enrollment, individuals and families can buy plans, known as qualified health plans, through the online marketplace.
They may be eligible for tax credits.
Luckey said about 80 percent of people who signed up during last year’s open enrollment received a premium tax credit. The average cost of a plan after the tax credit was less than $110 per month, he told the Herald.
Customers can navigate the marketplace on their own or seek help from the exchange’s call center. Lead agencies around the state, including CAC, also have coordinated networks of in-person assisters trained to provide one-on-one help. Along with CAC and Tri-Cities Community Health, assisters are available at local agencies including Miramar Health Center and Kadlec and Lourdes hospitals.
People also can seek advice and help from insurance brokers and agents.
Luckey said the online marketplace is working better than last year. But it hasn’t been without glitches, including an issue on the first day of enrollment with tax credit information that prompted officials to take the marketplace temporarily offline.
Nearly 25,000 residents had finished applications from Nov. 15 through Nov. 17 using the website, www.wahealthplanfinder.org, including more than 10,000 for qualified health plans, according to information from the exchange.
Open enrollment isn’t limited to those newly buying coverage. Existing customers also can shop for new plans or renew coverage.
Luckey urged people not to wait too long to sign up. Cordova said his agency is there to help, even if people who come there for assistance end up going elsewhere for their medical care.
“What’s important is that they be covered and they have that freedom of choice,” he said.
The state-based exchange also recently launched Washington Healthplanfinder Business, where employers with up to 50 workers can shop for coverage.
As of Nov. 17, more than 500 small businesses had created accounts to explore options, the exchange said.