Affordable Care Act

UCI UC Irvine

 

Under the Affordable Care Act insurance plans are required to cover birth control. But a new study reveals women in Washington State are often told otherwise when they shop for health insurance.

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.

Associated Press

The website for Washington's health insurance exchangeis back down again with new technical issues after problems last week took the website down for four days.

Spokeswoman Bethany Frey says problems at the Washington Department of Social and Health Services forced wahealthplanfinder.org to shut down Monday morning. DSHS is having problems with its own system that helps determine whether people are eligible for free or reduced cost insurance.

Like a lot of big projects, Obamacare needs time to be successful. That was the message from Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who testified before a House subcommittee in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

Kreidler had been invited to speak by Washington Rep. Jim McDermott, but quickly found himself in the crosshairs of another, Rep. Dave Reichert. 

Associated Press

Washington’s Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is getting an earful from lawmakers over his decision not to grant relief to people losing their health plans next month.

President Barack Obama, to make good on a promise that had begun to ring hollow, said he’d allow those losing their coverage to keep it for a year. But Kreidler declined the fix, calling it a bad fit for Washington.

Patrick Semansky / Associated Press

Washington’s health exchange has been a bright spot in the slipshod rollout of Obamacare, but one requirement for signing up could be a barrier to the very people the new law is supposed to serve.

To sign up for coverage on WAHealthPlanFinder.org, you have to make your first payment by credit card, debit card or electronic funds transfer from a bank account.

But recent studies show about one-fourth of Washington households are either “unbanked” with no access to an account, or “underbanked" with limited access. The number of those affected is even higher in low-income and minority communities to which many of the exchange’s target audience belong.

Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Washington state’s insurance commissioner says he will not allow companies to extend canceled policies. State commissioners are able to overrule the concession President Barack Obama announced Thursday.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler said allowing people to keep their old plans would warp the whole marketplace.

Associated Press

New federal statistics show Washington state has signed more people up for health insurance since open enrollment began Oct. 1 than any state other than New York and California.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The Washington state health care exchange website was temporarily down on Wednesday morning as a result of a digital snag in Washington, D.C.

Michael Marchand, spokesman for the state exchange, says Washington state's website depends on a component of the federal system to work. At the moment, it doesn't work, but once it's fixed, the state site can start accepting applications again.

He spoke to KPLU's Ed Ronco about the details during Morning Edition. 

On the day President Barack Obama acknowledged major flaws in the rollout of health insurance marketplaces, Washington’s exchange reported strong enrollment. Washington Healthplanfinder announced some 35,000 people have enrolled in a plan through the website, and another 56,000 are working their way through the process.

Michael Marchand, a spokesman for the exchange, said Washington’s site was designed to get the basics right.

jennyonthespot / Flickr

Seattle Children’s Hospital has filed a suit against the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, alleging it was largely cut out of the state’s new health insurance exchange.

There are eight insurance companies on Washington HealthPlanFinder, the marketplace that opened this week for individuals shopping for coverage. Six of them don’t include Seattle Children’s Hospital in their networks.

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

After a rocky start, Washington’s Health Plan Finder website is now running smoothly, according to a spokesman for the state’s Health Benefit Exchange.

Michael Marchand said Friday users are not experiencing the same slowdowns and other problems that plagued the website earlier in the week.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Washington state's new health insurance exchange is open and ready for business on its second day of operation.

Computer problems closed the website for the health insurance marketplace for hours on Tuesday morning, its first day of operation.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Even as Congress squabbles over the fate of health care reform, Washington’s insurance marketplace opens its virtual doors Tuesday morning.

As Gov. Jay Inslee put it, "Despite the shenanigans in D.C., we're ready to [launch our health care exchange].”

Officials running the exchange said their federal grants have already been appropriated and they expect to be fully funded through next year.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

On the same day House Republicans voted to defund the Affordable Care Act, King County is making a big push to implement it. Volunteers went door-to-door and business-to-business across the county Friday.

Public health officials are trying to get uninsured King County residents to buy insurance on the state’s new exchange. Many of them have never had coverage before.

Roadsidepictures

Seattle’s big dairy cooperative, Darigold, is once again facing worker unrest. The Teamsters have filed an unfair labor practice charge, saying the company walked out of negotiations with a mediator. 

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