Bellingham Roller Betties part of effort to get the young enrolled in health care coverage

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 1, 2014 

Bellingham Roller Betties

The Bellingham Roller Betties, a competitive roller-derby team, begin their seventh season at 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 at Whatcom Community College Pavilion, 237 W. Kellogg Road.

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Go to a bruising Bellingham Roller Betties bout this March, leave with information on how to sign up for health coverage under the federal health care overhaul.

The campaign with the roller derby league is part of the recent push by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange to reach out to state residents, specifically young individuals and young families who still might not know of the options available to them or that they could get help paying for premiums.

"There's still a good number of people who don't necessarily know this applies to them," said Dorothy Bradshaw of the nonprofit Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement.

Whatcom Alliance was one of the organizations chosen statewide to help people enroll in a health plan or coverage through expanded Medicaid, which also is called Apple Health.

The outreach includes other roller derby leagues across the state and the exchange's sponsorship of the Wild West Showdown, a roller derby tournament this weekend in Bremerton.

"We're really there to drive awareness of the opportunity that's available," said Bethany Frey, spokeswoman with the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Partnerships with ice hockey teams and a new ad campaign featuring a fictitious rap duo also are part of the effort to reach out to so-called "young invincibles" who are 18 to 34 years old and essential to making the new health insurance marketplace financially viable.

Of the 101,000 Washington residents who have bought private insurance through the exchange so far, about 23 percent are in the desired 18-to-34 age group.

Young people tend to be healthier, and the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that they need to make up about 40 percent of enrollment in private insurance plans to balance out the higher costs of insuring older, sicker people.

Meanwhile, the same age group makes up roughly 38 percent of those who enrolled under expanded Medicaid in Washington state.

In Whatcom County, about 69 percent of those younger than 65 who were eligible for Medicaid expansion or for subsidies to help pay for insurance - a total of 19,400 people - have been enrolled.

That's 13,489 people who have signed up as of the end of January, according to Bradshaw.

The goal was 50 percent.

Most people will be required to have health insurance in 2014 or face a fine under Obamacare.

The open enrollment period for buying plans through wahealthplanfinder.org ends March 31.

"We're expecting to see a bump at the end of the March open enrollment period, especially in that age group," Bradshaw said of the young demographic.

People can't sign up for health insurance again until the next open enrollment, which begins Oct. 15, unless they've experienced events such as losing a job that offered health insurance, having a baby, getting married or becoming a legal resident or citizen.

Then they can apply for health coverage within 60 days.

There isn't an open enrollment period for Medicaid so people can apply anytime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

HOW TO SIGN UP

-- Go online to wahealthplanfinder.org.

-- Call the Customer Service Center at 1-855-923-4633.

-- Contact a qualified insurance broker. Find the list at wahealthplanfinder.org. Click "Find and Compare Health Plans" and then "Find a Broker."

-- Get help from what's known as an in-person assister by calling the following organizations in Whatcom County:

-- Interfaith Community Health Center at 360-676-6177.

-- Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood at 360-734-9095.

-- Opportunity Council - East Whatcom at 360-599-3991.

-- SeaMar Community Health Center at 1-855-289-4503.

-- Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement at 360-788-6594.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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