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About 600,000 Washington Residents Enrolled Through Health Exchange

Courtesy of Washington Healthplanfinder
Washington's health exchange used ads featuring a fictitious rap duo to get the word out during open enrollment.

State and local officials are celebrating the robust number of people who signed up for health care through Washington’s exchange over the open enrollment period.

Between last October through the end of March, more than 164,000 Washington residents bought private health plans through the state exchange. In addition, more than 423,000 people got coverage through Washington Apple Health, the state’s Medicaid program.  Initially, the health exchange got off to a shaky start. Technical problems hampered people from completing their applications. Officials say the problems have since been fixed.

Health exchange CEO Richard Onizuka admitted the exchange may have lost some clients initially, but he thinks it gained them back in the months leading up to the March 31 deadline.

“Nine out 10 new applications now will get through,” Onizuka  said. “So we feel like people can get through the system pretty easily. We’re hearing that repeatedly from people in the community, agents and brokers who are sitting with people, so we feel that ground has been made up.”  

Now that people have health coverage, officials want to know whether they’re using it and how often.

The state’s Health Care Authority, the agency that administers Medicaid, is keeping an eye on that, said director Dorothy Teeter.

“So far we haven’t been hearing lots of stories of people not being able to get in,” Teeter said. “But it’s an unfolding story, it’s our next chapter of work really now that we’ve got folks insured, to look at the primary care and the specialty care access for them.”

In the meantime, community health centers have taken steps in preparation for new patients.

Carrie Vanzant is vice president of medical operations for Sea Mar Community Health Centers. She said they’ve already seen an uptick in their clinics, especially in Thurston and Clark counties, and have added more medical staff.

“We’ve also created what we call care teams,” Vanzant said. “Each individual who walks through our doors is assigned a care team so that’s multiple people that can take care of that person, dependent on the needs that they have, so we can be most efficient.”

Sea Mar is also adding new clinics to meet the demand. Three have already opened, and two more are in the works.

Year started with KUOW: 1994