By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP
SEATTLE (AP) _ About 170,000 Washington residents bought insurance through the state’s health care exchange during open enrollment that ended last week, the exchange reported Wednesday.
That’s about 30,000 more people than bought insurance during the first year the exchange was open, but it’s still about 40,000 fewer than the goal state officials set this year for Washington Healthplanfinder.
Those numbers include 16,000 who signed up for private insurance during the two-month extension of open enrollment, which ended on Friday.
About 97,000 people renewed their insurance during open enrollment and the extension, which means many of the 130,000 who bought insurance last year didn’t renew.
Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand said officials are still examining the numbers. But he has a long list of reasons why they failed to meet their enrollment goals of full renewals and 85,000 new customers. Those reasons include more people getting free insurance through Medicaid than expected, more getting jobs with benefits and more buying insurance through the open market.
Medicaid numbers are well above the goals set by the state, with 534.000 adults now getting Medicaid through Washington Apple Health, although that program allows year-round enrollment.
The office of the state insurance commissioner estimates 170,000 people bought private insurance outside the marketplace during the open enrollment period. That’s about the same as last year.
A Gallup poll found Washington’s uninsured rate had dropped to 10 percent by December 2014. State officials estimated nearly 1 million people in Washington state did not have insurance before the state expanded Medicaid eligibility and opened the health exchange under the rules of the Affordable Care Act in fall 2013.
“The end goal for us is to reduce the un-insurance rate as much as we possibly can,” Marchand said.
Other than sharing the raw numbers, he was not ready to assess how well they have done toward meeting that goal. The next step will be gathering more information from people who are still uninsured and figuring out how to reach the rest, Marchand said.
His main disappointment with the exchange to date is that it still isn’t offering the level of customer service people in Washington should be getting. “I’m disappointed that we haven’t been able to improve as quickly as I would like to,” Marchand added.
Many hope the recent decision by the exchange board to step out of the role of a middleman and have people pay their insurance companies directly will eliminate many of the problems the exchange has had since it opened.
In February, 13,000 customers of the exchange had an incorrect amount taken out of their bank accounts to pay their insurance premiums. Last year, 24,000 accounts reported billing problems, some of which prevented people from using the insurance they had purchased.