Insurance enrollment deadline Monday night

Extension granted for federal exchange does not apply for state site

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The countdown is on.

Washington residents have only a few days to complete their applications and submit payments for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Once the 11:59 p.m. Monday deadline passes, those who are uninsured will be unable to purchase health insurance until the next open enrollment begins Nov. 15.

Those who remain uninsured after the deadline may face a penalty.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration announced it would grant extensions for people unable to meet the federal exchange enrollment deadline. That extension, however, does not apply in Washington.

Washington operates its own insurance exchange, Washington Healthplanfinder, and is not extending its Monday deadline.

The exchange may provide consideration for people who had a verified application issue caused by a Washington Healthplanfinder system error that prevented them from enrolling. Those decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Healthplanfinder will contact those people individually. Affected customers can also call 855-923-4633 or email customersupport@wahbexchange.org to report their situation.

Extra consideration will not be provided to people who submit incomplete or inaccurate information or did not take steps to finish their current application in the system.

With the deadline nearing, Washington Healthplanfinder reported a surge in enrollment. On Tuesday, exchange officials said more than 12,000 people had completed applications in the prior week — that’s four times the average weekly enrollment.

But as enrollment numbers climb, so do wait times for the exchange call center. The average wait time for the call center — 855-WAFINDER (855-923-4633) — is up to 59 minutes.

In addition, the Washington Healthplanfinder website, http://wahealthplanfinder.org, will be closed for maintenance to federal data services at times this weekend. The scheduled closures are 10 p.m. Saturday until 2 a.m. Sunday and 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday.

“The expected surge in last-minute enrollments has begun,” said Richard Onizuka, chief executive officer for the exchange, in a news release. “We’re urging residents who are still seeking coverage to complete their application as soon as possible to avoid missing this first open enrollment period.”

After March 31, only people with qualifying life events — such as marriage, divorce, having a baby, no longer qualifying for a parent’s health insurance or moving to a new state — will be eligible to enroll in a health plan.

Those who aren’t enrolled in a plan by March 31 may face a penalty of $95 per adult or 1 percent of the family income, whichever is greater. The fine increases in following years.

From Oct. 1, when open enrollment began, through the end of February, 5,832 Clark County residents purchased individual health plans. The vast majority, 5,137 people, qualified for tax credits to help cover the cost of their health care, according to Washington Healthplanfinder’s most recent comprehensive report released last week.

In that same time period, 41,809 Clark County residents enrolled in Medicaid, which provides coverage for people ages 19 to 65 with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, according to the report.