Residents stymied by state exchange website errors may get more time to enroll

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Washington residents who keep getting error codes when they try to enroll in health coverage on the state’s online insurance marketplace, Healthplanfinder, may still be able to get coverage by Jan. 1 — even if they are unable to complete enrollment by the Dec. 23 deadline.

Officials at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which operates Healthplanfinder, said over the weekend they are talking with insurers about allowing those people more time to complete their applications and submit their first premium payments for coverage that would start at the beginning of the year.

A decision is likely by the middle of this week, or possibly earlier, said Exchange CEO Richard Onizuka.

He said the goal is to help people who have done everything they can to enroll but repeatedly get error codes because of problems with the system.

“If they’ve tried, and the problem is something that we’ve created that does not allow them to get through, we want to accommodate them as much as possible,” Onizuka said.

The extension under discussion would not apply to everyone who does not complete enrollment by Dec. 23, only to those who have tried to enroll but can’t get past the technical glitches.

The exchange initiated discussions with the insurers last week about options for extending the timetable for those consumers, Onizuka said.

It is still waiting to hear from insurers selling plans on Healthplanfinder about what they can do to help consumers who miss the Dec. 23 deadline for Jan. 1 coverage.

“It’s all a matter of timing with the carriers,” Onizuka said. They need sufficient time to process enrollments before coverage can start, he said, and the question is how much time.

“We’re having those discussions with the carriers, but we don’t have anything to say at this point,” Onizuka said.

Deadlines have already been changing at other exchanges.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Thursday it had decided to require insurers selling plans through the federal insurance marketplace, Healthcare.gov, to accept payment until Dec. 31 for coverage that starts Jan. 1.

Oregon health officials announced Friday that insurers in that state had agreed to delay the deadline for people to select a plan in the state’s health-insurance exchange, Cover Oregon, until Dec. 27. Without that change, the deadline would have been Sunday.

Cover Oregon’s online enrollment system is still not working, and although hundreds of workers have been hired to manually process paper applications, a huge backlog of applications remains to be reviewed.

Amy Snow Landa is a freelance writer in Seattle. This story was produced through a partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-policy research and communication organization that is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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