Washington health exchange promises reimbursements for costs associated with overbilling

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SEATTLE — Money will be returned by Friday morning to about 13,000 Washington health exchange customers who had double or triple their insurance premiums withdrawn from their bank accounts — four days after the problem was discovered, exchange officials said.

It will take longer to understand the full impact of the latest computer problem at the state's health insurance marketplace and to arrange for reimbursement of other associated costs, such as bank overdraft fees.

The problem was discovered Tuesday morning, when someone saw the exchange had too much money in its bank account, said Pam MacEwan, chief of staff for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

It was caused by a software update that introduced new code. The phone at the call center started ringing soon after staff discovered the problem, she added.

"There are no words to express how much we regret this error," MacEwan said at a meeting of the Exchange Board on Thursday, adding that they have been working around the clock to fix it and put money back into people's bank accounts.

When asked if anyone lost their insurance coverage or medical care because of the problem, MacEwan said there was no impact on consumers other than their bank accounts.

Exchange Board member Teresa Mosqueda jumped in to comment that there have been effects on consumers, even if their insurance wasn't affected.

"They might not have been able to put food on their table or put gas in their car to go to work," Mosqueda said. "I do think we have a major concern here."

Board member Mark Stensager asked how the exchange's technical contractor, Deloitte, would answer for the error. He also expressed concern that problems like this continue to overshadow the success stories of the exchange.

More than 668,000 Washington residents now have health insurance coverage thanks to the Affordable Care Act. But the exchange has fallen about 20,000 short of its enrollment goals for this year.

Nearly 160,000 have signed up for private insurance through the exchange, including more than 66,000 new customers. Exchange board members expressed concern about people renewing their insurance from last year.

About 10,000 of the people who bought insurance through the exchange were qualified for free insurance through Medicaid this year, MacEwan said. Some got insurance through their jobs, and some decided insurance was too expensive and decided not to buy it this year.

Exchange officials said they will continue to research why people are choosing not to renew, while continuing to reach out to them during a special enrollment extension to change their minds. So far 2,500 people have enrolled during the extension.

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