Washington health exchange getting record use


SEATTLE (AP) — Washington’s online health insurance exchange was offline overnight until nearly 9 a.m. on Monday morning despite a looming deadline for Washington residents to sign up for health insurance — or at least try to start the process.

Despite hours of unexpected down time, officials at Washington Healthplanfinder were expecting Monday to be their busiest day of traffic since the site opened on Oct. 1, said Michael Marchand, spokesman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. Friday was its second busiest day.

The site was down for scheduled maintenance overnight, and the closure was extended for another few hours to run some applications that had previously been stopped by error messages.

The extra work updated and fixed about 5,000 applications plagued by computer glitches that kept consumers from signing up for health insurance, Marchand said. Those people will be notified automatically that their applications are ready for completion.

The Washington exchange has been closed for maintenance in the early morning hours nearly every weekend since October, Marchand said. Monday morning’s efforts were extended because the federal site went down and delayed Washington’s planned work, he said.

Those who start their application on wahealthplanfinder.org by midnight Monday will have some extra time to complete it and still get health insurance starting Jan. 1.

Officials at the health exchange announced last week they would extend the deadline to help more people sign up.

If they complete the application they began by Monday and pay by Jan. 15, their insurance benefits will cover them retroactively to Jan. 1.

Washington will not be mirroring the federal exchange by giving people an extra day to start their applications, Marchand said.

But staff members are reaching out by phone, email and mail to see if people need help completing applications, he said.

“We’re trying to be very proactive with people who are trying to complete their applications, and who want or need that coverage to start Jan. 1,” Marchand said.

As of the beginning of last week, about 32,000 Washington residents have completed their applications for private insurance and made their first payment. An additional 61,000 had done everything but made the first payment. Thousands more were amid the process.

Since Oct. 1, more than 150,000 people have entered their information in the exchange and found out they were eligible for free health insurance through Medicaid.

Before health care reform went into effect, an estimated 1 million Washington residents did not have health insurance.


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