Affordable Care Act

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

State health officials are putting a positive spin on the bumpy rollout of the state’s health insurance exchange.

Over the weekend, the Washington Healthplanfinder website shut down just a few hours after it opened for business. It’s now back online after a glitch involving tax credit calculations was fixed.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

If you want to buy or change your health plan, state insurance marketplaces re-open Saturday for the first time since March. In the first round of enrollment, which ended in March, Washington cut its uninsured rate by more than a third. But recruiting the uninsured could be tougher this time around.

Health workers say they have collected much of the low-hanging fruit. For example, about 140,000 people bought health plans during the first open enrollment period, but three times as many got free coverage from Medicaid.

Kayla Scrivner of the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department said as recruiters focus more on private coverage, the sales job gets a little tougher.

Office of the Insurance Commissioner

The cost of health insurance for individuals is probably going up next year in Washington, but in a key test of the market under the Affordable Care Act, the rate hikes will be lower than in recent years.

How Obamacare would affect insurance rates has been one of the law’s big mysteries. There weren’t big price hikes this year, but now that the law has been fully in effect for some months, would there be a big jump for 2015?

According to the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the answer is no. In paperwork filed with the OIC, the 17 insurance companies have asked for an average increase of 8.25 percent increase. Commissioner Mike Kreidler says that's the smallest increase in seven years.

AP Photo

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has signed off on new rules for health plans, shrugging off criticism from insurers and medical providers.

The rules target a practice insurance companies have been relying on more lately: offering low-cost plans that cover care at fewer hospitals and other providers.

Kreidler says the new rules simply protect consumers’ right to know what they’re giving up for those lower premiums.   

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

After a rocky start, Washington’s health benefits exchange is taking a victory lap. Officials say the exchange got the late surge in enrollments it was counting on, pushing up its final numbers.

The first open enrollment period of Obamacare ended in March, and now that the exchange has processed most of the stragglers, it has released new numbers: 164,062 people enrolled in private plans, with another 423,205 enrolling in Medicaid through March 31. Factor in those now required to use the exchange’s website to re-up their Medicaid, and the number exceeds a cool million.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

The practice of offering relatively inexpensive health plans with bare-bones provider networks has created tension between making health care affordable and keeping it accessible. It’s set to come to a head this week in Olympia.

The growth of “narrow networks” in Washington comes as the Affordable Care Act limits the ability of insurance companies to control their costs. That’s made it harder to offer plans at a range of prices — something the companies want to do as they compete for comparison shoppers on the health exchanges.

President Obama says that enrollment under the Affordable Care Act has reached 8 million after the March 31 sign-up deadline was extended by two weeks.

"This thing is working," he told reporters at a White House briefing on Thursday.

The president said that 35 percent of those signing up through the federal government's website were under the age of 35. The need for younger, healthier individuals to enroll in the program is considered vital to the success of Obamacare.

Gabriel Spitzer

Midnight Monday marks the end of the first open enrollment period for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. That means most people without insurance come Tuesday will have to wait seven months to sign up.

In spite of some outages, last-minute shoppers have mobbed the websites for state and federal exchanges. And they also showed up in person at King County’s public health headquarters for an eleventh-hour enrollment event.

Washington Health Benefits Exchange

Washington’s health exchange is wrestling with how to accommodate people who have had trouble signing up for insurance. The March 31 deadline has been looming for months, as officials urge people to get covered or face a fine.

But considering the well-known problems at the state and federal exchanges, officials figured some people will need an extension. The question is who gets it.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

One thing about the Affordable Care Act is that now we’re all expected to be informed consumers about buying insurance. If you’ve never done that, you might be surprised at all the jargon you’re supposed to know. And if you’ve waited until the last minute to enroll — most people have until March 31 to sign up and dodge the fine, it’s time to start cramming.

They drink. They dance. And they love the Sasquatch Music Festival, an annual phenomenon in Washington state. But will young people sign up for insurance on the state's health exchange?

The folks who run the exchange were sponsors of the music festival's launch party last month, reminding people they have until the end of March to pick health insurance and see if they qualify for help paying for it.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

The latest figures on who's signing up under the federal health care law tell a surprising story about one of the most conservative states in the country.

Even though Idaho politicians regularly condemn Obamacare, Idahoans are signing up at one of the highest per capita rates in the country, second only to Vermont.

AP Photo

The federal subsidies are what’s supposed to make Obamacare work; people who wouldn’t be able to afford a decent health plan get help to offset the cost.

But nearly a thousand people who bought plans on Washington’s exchange have learned they’ll be on the hook for the full premium this month.  

About 950 people who were supposed to get retroactive coverage won’t have their promised subsidies discounted from their January bill. They’ll still get the money, but they’ll have to wait until they do their taxes in 2015.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

A diverse group of people have signed up for private health insurance on Washington's state-run exchange, but officials say they still need more young people on board. 

As of Jan. 2, some 71,205 people had enrolled in private plans on Washington's health insurance exchange, a good deal less than the goal of 130,000. But Exchange CEO Richard Onizuka said it’s still on the low end of the expected range.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Washington residents who have started but not finished their applications for insurance through the state's new health care exchange are getting a deadline extension.

State officials announced Wednesday that anyone who begins an application before Dec. 23, will have until Jan. 1 to finish. Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand says they'll get as much help as they need to make that happen.

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