Local news

Health insurance sign-up deadline nears

Time is running out to purchase subsidized health insurance for 2014.

March 31 is the nationwide enrollment deadline for private health plans. With people continuing to sign up in large numbers, Washington state has launched a final publicity campaign, urging procrastinators not to wait any longer.

Applicants who have questions could face lengthening waits for help; by the end of February the average wait time was 49 minutes at Washington state’s toll-free call center, at 1 (855) WAFINDER. The call center provides customer service for users of the Washington Health Plan Finder website ( www.wahealthplanfinder.org), where Washington residents must go to purchase subsidized health insurance.

Idaho residents must go to www.yourhealthidaho.org to buy a subsidized policy.

The subsidies reduce monthly premiums and are available to individuals and families with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of poverty level (400 percent is an income of $95,400 a year for a family of four).

For those who need personal assistance or have difficulty using websites, federal law required states to train local insurance brokers as well as “navigators,” who tend to be social workers and employees at medical facilities.

For example, in the Spokane area, trained navigators are available at locations including the YWCA, the Spokane Regional Health District, CHAS medical clinics, the Christ Clinic, the Spokane AIDS Network, the NATIVE Project, Planned Parenthood, the Spokane County Library District and local hospitals.

The impending deadline applies to the purchase of private individual health plans for 2014. In Washington, for coverage effective April 1, enrollment must be completed and payment received by 5 p.m. March 23. For coverage effective May 1, enrollment must be completed and payment received by 11:59 p.m. March 31.

After March 31, applicants for a private policy must wait until Oct. 1, the start of the enrollment window for 2015 coverage.

Those who qualify for Medicaid do not face a deadline; they can apply throughout the year. In Washington, the ceiling for Medicaid eligibility is a household income of 138 percent of poverty level for adults, or 300 percent of poverty level for children. Idaho did not expand Medicaid, so its eligibility ceilings are lower.

The government’s health insurance enrollment reports show an accelerating flood of sign-ups. Between Oct. 1 and Feb. 27, 427,800 Washington residents obtained new 2014 coverage through the state’s Health Plan Finder. Of those, 106,281 purchased a private policy and 321,519 were added to the Medicaid rolls. In Spokane County alone, the 19,494 new Medicaid sign-ups through March 6 represented 217 percent of the level the state had expected to reach by April 1.

Meanwhile, 43,861 Idaho residents so far have purchased private health policies on the Your Health Idaho website. According to Idaho officials, this placed Idaho as second in the nation in per-capita purchase of policies on a state exchange website. By turning down the federally funded expansion of Medicaid, however, Idaho’s Legislature left the state’s poorest adults without a path to coverage.



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