More time for Washington state residents to buy private health insurance

Washington residents who still need to buy private health insurance through the state exchange have until April 17 to do so because enrollment has been extended.

A total of 160,000 people had signed up statewide during the original enrollment period that ended Feb. 15, with a surge coming in the last few days, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange said.

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

The latest enrollment figures for Whatcom County weren’t available, although organizations here that were helping people sign up also reported a bump in interest.

“We are still getting calls from people now who weren’t aware of the deadline, so we are quite happy that we can still help them,” said Maureen Kane, access services manager for Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement.

State officials said the April date is for those who failed to buy insurance under the original deadline because of technical issues or system delays, or were just now realizing they would face a penalty for not having health coverage.

“Next year, the tax penalty increases to $325 per individual or up to 2 percent of your income, whichever is greater, so it’s important consumers are aware of this increase if they don’t sign up for coverage this year,” said Bethany Frey, spokeswoman with the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Officials with the state exchange, working with a consulting firm, originally had hoped to have 213,000 state residents sign up for private insurance by the Feb. 15 deadline.

“But it was difficult to gather projections, given we are only in year two of the program and are still working with the Office of the Insurance Commissioner to evaluate the outside market,” Frey said. “Overall, we’re pleased with the last-minute surge and the impact to the uninsured rate here in the state.”

More than 660,000 state residents have received coverage through Medicaid expansion and qualified health plans, the term for private health insurance through the exchange, and that exceeded forecasts for Washington state, according to Frey.

That overall coverage is “the key metric” of the Affordable Care Act, she said.

“The exchange is a long-term play and will be measured by its continued success as we stabilize and become established in the coming years,” Frey said. “While the focus today is often on the detail, it will be the change that the exchange is driving that will ultimately define our success.”

As for the new deadline, people have until 4:59 p.m. on April 17 to ask for the spring special enrollment, and 11:59 p.m. that same date to buy private health insurance in order to get coverage for 2015.

State residents can find information and sign up for private health insurance in a number of ways:

• Apply online at


, which also will let consumers know whether they qualify for financial help to lower the cost of their health plans. When prompted to select the type of special enrollment being applied for, select “other.” The site also offers contact information for brokers and navigators who can help.

• Contact the toll-free customer support center by calling 1-855-923-4633. Ask for the special enrollment period.

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. More on the special enrollment is at wahbexchange.org.