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Feb. 15 deadline nears for enrolling in health insurance through state exchange

Washington residents who still need to buy private health insurance through the state exchange have until Sunday, Feb. 15, when the open enrollment period ends.

A total of 6,166 Whatcom County residents have enrolled in such plans since Jan. 31.

Of that total, 1,786 were new and 4,380 were renewals, according to Washington Health Benefit Exchange figures released last week.

Washington’s health exchange is where consumers and businesses can compare and buy health insurance plans.

Under Obamacare, most people who don’t have health coverage in 2015 face a fine of about $325 per adult or 2 percent of household income, whichever is greater.

This sign-up period was the second for a key piece of the federal health law.

As for the deadline, officials stress that it’s 9:59 p.m. Feb. 15, one minute before the state exchange website shuts down. Coverage would begin March 1.

There’s been a surge of sign-ups in the past few days, with an additional 7,000 enrolled in private health plans. That makes for a total of 139,000 now enrolled statewide, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange said Wednesday, Feb. 11.

The new enrollment numbers weren’t broken down by county.

State residents can sign up for what are called qualified health plans, the term for private health plans, in a number of ways:

• Apply online at

wahealthplanfinder.org

, which also will let consumers know whether they qualify for financial help to lower the cost of their health plans. Online applications are strongly encouraged over paper applications to ensure they are processed by the deadline.



• Use a health insurance broker. Find registered brokers at

wahealthplanfinder.org

. Search by zip code by going to the customer support link.



• Contact the toll-free customer support center 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Friday. Special weekend hours also are available from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 14, and from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Feb. 15. That phone number is 1-855-923-4633, or email

customersupport@wahbexchange.org

.



• Go to a local navigator or an enrollment event. Navigators are trained to help people enroll in coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder, which is the name for the state exchange, and are searchable through the customer support link on the homepage of

wahealthplanfinder.org

.



Navigators and brokers will be at enrollment events to help people sign up. Upcoming events in Whatcom County include these three on Thursday, Feb. 12:

• 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Ferndale Library,

2125 Main St.

• 6 to 8 p.m. at the North Fork Library,

7506 Kendall Road

in Kendall.



• 4 to 7 p.m. at WorkSource,

101 Prospect St. in Bellingham

.

Registration

is required before going to the event. Do so by going online to

www.wa.gov/esd/EventCalendars/whatcom.htm#/?i=1

or call 360-676-3255.



Organizers are working to reach out to people in the last remaining days for sign-up, including at enrollment events.

“They’re evening events. We’re trying to make sure we’re giving people as many options as possible,” said Jessica Rock, the in-person assister program manager for Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement, which is one of the organizations that helps people access health care coverage.

People also can get help enrolling through Sea Mar Medical Clinic, 4455 Cordata Parkway in Bellingham, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

People should bring the following information and documents to the enrollment events:

• Names, dates of birth and social security numbers for all household members.



• Proof of household income.



• Immigration documents, if applicable.



Consumers also are being told to shop wisely to buy insurance that will meet their needs, and that includes considering all out-of-pocket expenses.

“We’re trying to urge people to really look at the costs, not just the premiums of their health plans,” Rock said.

Enrollment in Washington Apple Health, which is the name for Medicaid in the state, can be done year-round.

Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement can be reached at 360-788-6594.

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