SEATTLE — At least 6,000 people who bought health insurance through Washington's new exchange are having trouble using that coverage because of computer glitches with the new program.
Officials at the exchange are hoping to have all the problems fixed by Aug. 1.
Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler told The Associated Press that's about all the time he's going to give the exchange to fix the problem before he starts advising people to buy their health insurance outside of it.
After Aug. 1, the insurance commissioner said he may open enrollment for people inside the exchange to buy policies directly from insurance companies. Kreidler does not control what happens through the exchange, but he does regulate insurance companies outside of it.
In addition to addressing billing problems when people call in to complain, the exchange is also auditing every account used to buy private insurance through Washington's answer to federal health reform.
Some of the problems are related to the way Washington's insurance marketplace was designed and others happened because of the way people filled out their applications, explained Michael Marchand, spokesman for the exchange.
"We understand the gravity of this situation," Marchand said. "We recognize at the end of these applications, there's a person."
Kreidler said he does not have jurisdiction over the exchange, but that hasn't stopped more than a thousand people from calling his office to complain about the billing problems.
"It's just not good enough to say we have to get this fixed, You can't put all your eggs in one basket on this one," Kreidler said.
Both issues need to be fixed before everyone's insurance premiums are processed correctly and all 156,155 people who bought insurance through the exchange between Oct. 1 and June 1 can use that insurance to visit a doctor.
"We're trying to get this resolved as quickly as possible," Marchand said.
He encouraged people with problems who haven't called the exchange helpline to do so. Marchand said the call center in Spokane is staffed with 300 people and call volumes have not been high enough to cause measurable delays.
Seattle therapist and entrepreneur Clinton Campbell, 34, says he has called and called and still is waiting for his insurance issue to be resolved.
Until then, Campbell is paying cash for prescriptions and asking his doctors to be understanding.
"This week, I contacted the governor's office twice," Campbell said. He also called the insurance commissioner, the exchange helpline, his state representative, his congressmen and his insurance company.
Nearly two weeks ago, Campbell's insurance was cancelled by the exchange, which claimed he didn't pay his premiums. But he says he has paid his premium every month.
"Obviously there's something broken," he said.
Retiree Paul Emerson, 64, of Clarkston, agrees. His doctors' bills are starting to add up, but his insurance company says they are still waiting to be paid even though he has sent his payment to the exchange.
Premera Blue Cross Told Emerson they're hearing the same story from lots of other customers.
Emerson, a former editor at the Lewiston, Idaho, Morning Tribune, said his insurance worked fine at first and then problems started popping up this month.
He also found signing up for his new insurance a real challenge, so the situation is familiar.
"It just sounds like another snafu with the Washington health exchange," said Emerson, whose initial sign-up late last year required half a dozen phones calls and assistance from an insurance agent.
His initial criticism of health care reform was quelled when he found out his insurance costs were going down.
"I thought it was terrific. And then this happened."
Washington exchange: https://www.wahealthplanfinder.org
Healthplanfinder help line: 1-855-923-4633