Under the health law, large employers that don't offer their full-time workers comprehensive, affordable health insurance face a fine. But some employers are taking it a step further and requiring workers to buy the company insurance, whether they want it or not.

Many workers may have no choice but to comply.

Some workers are upset. One disgruntled reader wrote to Kaiser Health News: "My employer is requiring me to purchase health insurance and is automatically taking the premium out of my paycheck even though I don't want to sign up for health insurance. Is this legal?"

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.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Washington’s health care exchange will reopen for business late this week, and exchange officials say people will have more choices and a smoother shopping experience this time around.

Saturday will mark the start of the second open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act. That means that most individuals will be able to get new health insurance or change plans for the first time since last spring.

Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand said they will find the list of options has grown.

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

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.

Most Americans who still don’t have health insurance by March 31 could face a fine, and Washington’s health benefits exchange is hoping the looming deadline will help motivate people to enroll. But so far, the exchange is lagging behind its goals.

Massachusetts, which served as a template for the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to get insurance or pay a penalty, saw a huge rush just before the deadline. Exchange board member Phil Dyer says Washington needs a similar surge.

“Well, I feel like we’re behind the power curve. We’ve got a long way to go,” Dyer said. “Let’s wait and see if March gets us there, and then take a hard look at planning for Exchange 2.0.”

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.

Washington’s health insurance exchange has ramped up its customer-service call center in anticipation of a big surge in enrollments this month. But callers should still hunker down for a long wait.

The Spokane-based call center got an average of more than 40,000 calls a day in January, but managed to answer just 15 percent of them. Of the rest, the vast majority got a message telling them to give up and call back later, while others hung up due to wait times that averaged 40 minutes or more.

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.

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.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Washington’s new health insurance exchange has been touting its strong enrollment numbers, especially in comparison to the deeply-troubled federal exchange. But members of the board overseeing the exchange are starting to express some anxiety about meeting their signup goals.

The exchange reports 98,399 enrollments, as of mid-November. But the vast majority, 88 percent, are enrolled in the government-sponsored Medicaid program. The state needs to get many more people into private qualified health plans, or QHPs, to create a functioning market.

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.

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.

Rogelio V. Soli / AP Photo

At least 82 King County workers have received advance layoff notices as a result of the partial federal government shutdown. The workers administer food assistance to women, infants, and children through the program known as WIC. That food aid is in jeopardy as the shutdown continues.

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.


On Tuesday, if all goes according to plan, the federal health law's marketplaces for individual health insurance are scheduled to open for business.

Nearly all Americans will be required to have health insurance starting Jan. 1, 2014, or else they'll be liable for a tax penalty.

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.


Washington’s senior senator says she won’t let Republicans sacrifice the new health care law in order to pass a budget. The Republican-controlled House is pushing a plan that would do just that.

Sen. Patty Murray took to the Senate floor Wednesday to tell them, “It’s not gonna happen.”

Paul Beaty / AP Photo

The menu of choices on Washington’s new health insurance exchange now includes 43 different plans provided by eight companies.

Consumer choice will vary by county, but every county in the state will have at least two providers to choose from.


The menu of health insurance plans that will soon be offered to Washington consumers is still up in the air. The board overseeing the new health benefits exchange is holding out for more choices.

Washington’s insurance commissioner has approved four providers to offer 31 plans on Washington HealthPlanFinder, the new online marketplace for individuals that’s supposed to launch Oct. 1.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Washington consumers will know later this week what insurance plans they’ll have to choose from on the state’s new health exchange. Insurance companies face a Tuesday deadline to submit plans to the state.

Nine have applied so far to offer products on the Washington Healthplan Finder, the online marketplace where consumers can comparison-shop for coverage. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, requires those exchanges to be open for business by Oct. 1.

Associated Press

If the price tag for health insurance goes up under Obamacare, it’s likely to hit some policy holders in their 20s, economists have warned. Now that the first round of numbers are available in Washington state, we can see whether that’s the case.

If the price tag for health insurance goes up under Obamacare, it’s likely to hit some policy holders in their 20s, economists have warned. Now that the first round of numbers is available in Washington state, we can see whether that’s the case.

The Obama administration on Wednesday released its final rule on essential health benefits, which sets out the coverage insurers must offer starting in 2014.

Insurers must cover 10 broad categories of care, including emergency services, maternity care, hospital and doctors' services, mental health and substance abuse care and prescription drugs.

Health insurance plans now have to cover the full cost of breast pumps for nursing mothers. This is the result of a provision in the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), and the new rule took effect for many people at the start of this year.

It's led to a boom in the sale of the pumps, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Health care is probably taking a bigger chunk out of your paycheck than it was a decade ago. The rising cost of insurance and deductibles has been dramatic whether you work for a small business or a large one.

Tedeytan / Flickr

Despite the difficult economy, more Americans have health insurance than a year ago, according to newly released census data. One reason: the new “Obamacare” law allows young adults, up to age 26, to stay on their parents’ insurance. Many others qualified for government programs in 2011, such as Medicaid and Medicare.

The pattern is different, though, in Washington state.