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Washington's Health Exchange Opens For Business Again, As Uninsured Rate Continues To Drop

Gabriel Spitzer
Washington's health exchange has begun its third open enrollment period with several changes designed to streamline choosing and paying for health insurance.

Washington’s health insurance exchange is open for business for the third time since the Affordable Care Act went into effect; and exchange managers say consumers can expect a smoother shopping experience this time.

The open enrollment period officially began Nov. 1 for most consumers. This time around, there will be more plans to choose from – some 148 offered by 13 different insurance companies.

Starting this period, customers will no longer pay their premiums through the health exchange; instead they will pay their insurance companies directly.

Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand said the change is aimed at one of the big trouble spots for the Washington HealthPlanFinder web site during the first two rounds of enrollment.

“We know that the majority of issues that cropped up in the first two years were related to invoice and billing. So that’s going to be a big change,” Marchand said.

Nearly 1.5 million people in Washington have used HealthPlanFinder to buy insurance or enroll in Medicaid since Obamacare took effect, helping drop the state’s uninsured population from about 16.8 percent to just 6.4 percent, according to a recent Gallup survey.

The penalties for failing to get coverage also increase this year: the IRS can fine people $695 or up to 2.5 percent of their income. The deadline to sign up for coverage starting next year is December 23. 

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.