Health care advice just a call a way for Washington residents

Support center opens today to help with insurance issues

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Help is coming for Washington residents who have questions about the state's health insurance exchange.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange, the organization tasked with implementing the exchange, will open its customer support center today. The helpline — 855-WAFINDER (855-923-4633) — will be open 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Help will be available in 175 languages.

On Oct. 1, uninsured Washington residents who need to purchase insurance for themselves or their families will begin exploring the new state-based marketplace, Washington Healthplanfinder. Coverage will begin Jan. 1.

Beginning today, the Spokane-based call center will help Washingtonians learn more about the new health plan options and tax subsidies that will be available through the exchange. Once open enrollment begins Oct. 1, call center representatives can also help walk callers through the enrollment process and educate them about the different plan options available.

Call center representatives will not be able to offer advice or recommendations on which health plans to choose. Only insurance brokers who are registered with the exchange are permitted to offer recommendations, said Bethany Frey, exchange spokeswoman.

Once the exchange opens, detailed information about health insurance plans will be available on the Washington Healthplanfinder website, http://wahealthplanfinder.org. In the meantime, the website has a calculator to help estimate health plan costs and potential tax subsidies.

The health insurance exchange is a component of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

An estimated 280,000 Washington residents will use the exchange to enroll in health plans next year. By 2017, the state expects exchange enrollment to reach nearly half a million people.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com