The state health insurance exchange's next open enrollment period starts in mid-November.
And, "if there's any message for this year, it's don't wait until the last minute" to sign up for coverage, said Richard Onizuka, exchange CEO.
On March 31, the final day of the last open enrollment period, the exchange's call center fielded 90,000 calls.
"Starting at 10 a.m., we were getting 10,000 calls an hour," with wait times stretching to an hour or more, said Onizuka, who met with the Herald's editorial board last week.
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The upcoming open enrollment period for individuals and families starts Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 15. Officials expect about 85,000 new enrollments during that time.
The exchange offers more carriers and plans during this round of enrollment.
The number in each county varies. In Benton and Franklin counties, seven carriers are offering 56 plans this year.
Statewide, 10 carriers will offer 82 plans, compared to the eight carriers with 46 plans during the last open enrollment.
The upcoming enrollment period isn't just for new customers. Existing exchange customers also will be able to change plans or renew coverage, with many eligible for automatic renewal.
The federal Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, required most Americans to have health insurance by this year or face penalties.
States could use the federal health insurance exchange, partner with the feds or set up their own state-based exchange, as Washington chose to do.
Washington's exchange -- the online marketplace is called Washington Healthplanfinder -- has been among the most successful, although its debut wasn't without problems, from technical glitches during the roll-out to invoice and accounting issues later.
Onizuka said they still were working to fix problems with about 1,300 accounts, though they were expected to be resolved soon.
About 147,000 people are enrolled in plans through the exchange.
Thousands also newly enrolled in Medicaid through an expansion of the insurance program for low-income residents.
"We have estimates from the insurance commissioner's office that about 370,000 people this year now have health insurance that didn't have health insurance last year," Onizuka said.
"Most of the national studies that review how states did during open enrollment -- we're in the top four or five states in the country," he added.
A statewide marketplace for small businesses with up to 50 employees also is available this fall.
Onizuka said officials aren't sure what to expect in terms of interest level.
A pilot in Clark and Cowlitz counties didn't draw a large number of customers, but many employers around the state signed up for online accounts "just to see what was available last year, even though they couldn't get anything," Onizuka said. "We're going to reach out to all of them this year to let them know something is available now statewide."
For more information on open enrollment, go to www.wahealthplanfinder.org. Community Action Connections, or CAC, in Pasco once again is offering in-person help navigating the online exchange.
Representatives from a number of other local organizations, such as Tri-Cities Community Health and the Benton-Franklin Health District, also have been trained to provide the in-person assistance.
To reach CAC, call 509-545-4042.
-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald