Even Washington's state-based health insurance exchange couldn't avoid the problems plaguing the federal health care website.
Since Washington is one of 14 states operating its own insurance exchange — called Washington Healthplanfinder — it has largely avoided the outages and glitches crippling the federal website, healthcare.gov. But during Washington Healthplanfinder's mobile enrollment tour stop in Vancouver on Wednesday, the federal website woes prevented people from actually enrolling in health plans.
HELP WITH HEALTH PLANS
For those who missed the mobile tour stop in Vancouver, help enrolling in a health care plan is available through the following agencies:
• Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities of Southwest Washington: 360-694-8144.
• Clark County Public Health: 360-397-8000.
• Community Services Northwest: 360-397-8484.
• Free Clinic of Southwest Washington: 360-313-1390.
• Lifeline Connections: 360-397-8246.
• Lutheran Community Services Northwest: 360-694-5624.
• PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center: 877-202-3597.
• Second Step Housing: 360-993-5301.
• Share: 360-695-7658.
The Washington Healthplanfinder website ties into a federal database that verifies applicants' identity and income and calculates tax subsidies. That federal data hub has been down, leaving the state's site unable to complete applications, said Bethany Frey, Washington Healthplanfinder spokeswoman.
"A lot of what people hear about the federal site doesn't affect us," she said. "This part does."
So during the statewide tour stop at the Vancouver Community Library, local residents filled out paper applications that will be completed once the federal data hub is back up and running, Frey said.
Vancouver resident Paul Puttkammer, 57, was one of more than 50 people who submitted paper applications during Wednesday's event. Puttkammer currently pays $326 per month for a health plan with a $5,000 deductible. The plan covers 50 percent of health costs; Puttkammer is responsible for the other 50 percent.
"That was the most affordable plan," Puttkammer said.
Puttkammer could have elected to purchase a plan with better coverage, but that would have cost him closer to $1,000 a month — well beyond what he could afford, he said.
Through the insurance exchange, Puttkammer found a LifeWise silver plan — which means the plan pays for 70 percent of costs and Puttkammer pays 30 percent — for about $200 per month, after a federal subsidy. The plan has a $2,500 deductible.
Puttkammer underwent back surgery in July, which left him unable to continue his job as an X-ray technician. He also has his own project management business. With his current insurance plan, Puttkammer ended up paying about $9,000 out of pocket for the surgery.
"If I had a plan like this, I would have paid $3,000," he said of his new plan.
Puttkammer said he's been clipping newspaper and magazine articles about the Affordable Care Act since June, all in anticipation of the day he could enroll in a more affordable plan.
"I'm delighted it's here," he said.
Battle Ground resident Marc Burnham also stopped by Wednesday's event and completed the paperwork to enroll in Medicaid once it expands Jan. 1 to cover people ages 19 to 65 making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
Burnham, 43, cares for his grandmother, who is on a limited income.
"She can't afford to pay me to care for her," Burnham said. "That's what family does. We care for one another. We just struggle together."
Burnham hasn't had insurance since he was much younger and living at home with his parents. When he heard the Affordable Care Act would require people to be insured, Burnham worried he would be fined because he couldn't afford insurance.
Burnham never wanted to be a burden to his family or the government, so when he got sick, he would just "tough it out," he said. The state's Medicaid program, however, means he'll be able to see a doctor if he needs to.
"That would be good for me, and I hope it would be good for other people," he said. "It wouldn't be as bad as you fear."
From Oct. 1, when open enrollment began, to Oct. 24, more than 1,500 newly eligible Clark County adults have enrolled in the expanded Medicaid program, according to the state Health Care Authority, which oversees the Medicaid program.
Statewide, more than 26,300 applications for expanded Medicaid have been submitted. Another 16,269 applications for the current Medicaid program -- which covers children, pregnant women and people with disabilities — have been submitted through Washington Healthplanfinder since Oct. 1.
About 6,400 applications for individual health plans have been submitted statewide. The number of Clark County residents who have enrolled in individual health plans is not yet available.
The Washington Healthplanfinder mobile enrollment tour will continue to make stops at various cities throughout the next two weeks to get more people signed up for coverage.
In Vancouver, nearly 100 people signed up to receive additional information and follow-up appointments with local organizations helping people to enroll in plans. And even more people stopped by to pick up fliers and ask questions about available health plans, said Janis Koch, a program manager at Clark County Public Health.
"I think it went much better than I had expected," Koch said.