Washington health exchange hopes 85,000 will buy insurance during open enrollment period

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SEATTLE — The people who run Washington's health insurance exchange are hoping 85,000 people will buy private insurance during an open enrollment period that begins Saturday.

That's just one of the goals they want to reach between now and Feb. 15. They also hope all of the about 145,000 people who bought insurance during the first open enrollment period that began Oct. 1, 2013, will renew for another year.

And they want their computer system and the call center to handle the traffic better than it did last year, without shutting down and rejecting applications for reasons like a hyphen in a last name.

In addition to the thousands who may sign up for private insurance through the exchange, state officials are hoping people who are eligible for free insurance through Medicaid will also come to the website to sign up.

More than 550,000 Washington residents have used the exchange to get Medicaid, which is known as Apple Health in Washington state, since the Affordable Care Act took effect last October.

There are other goals as well, including a desire to sign-up more 20- and 30-somethings for health insurance. They'll be looking for these targets online, at shopping malls and rock concerts.

Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand believes Washington Healthplanfinder has a number of advantages this year: For one, most of the software problems have been fixed. And even though enrollment stopped over the summer, marketing did not.

"We've had more than a year to prime the pump with marketing and outreach," Marchand said, including active recruiting of young people at concerts.

"It takes the average person about eight times to get the message," Marchand said.

He's hoping the generation that gets most of its information online has figured out how they will benefit from having health insurance, or at least heard that the U.S. government's fines for people who don't have health insurance will be going up.

People who do not buy insurance will have to pay a fine when they file their income taxes. Those fines start at $95 or 1 percent of 2014 household income, but the minimum fine in 2015 will be $325 per uninsured person or 2 percent of household income.

Consumers will find more choices this time around, with more insurance plans and more companies on the exchange. Rates have gone up slightly overall but some people will find cheaper insurance.

Although the exchange is promising a smoother consumer experience this time, not all the problems in the system have been fixed, Marchand acknowledged this week.

About a thousand people who bought insurance the first time around are still having problems getting their payments credited and that money transferred to their insurance companies.

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Online:

Washington Healthplanfinder: http://www.wahealthplanfinder.org/

For help, sign-up events and information: http://wahbexchange.org/

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