10/21/2014

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More than 9,400 sign up through health exchange

More than 9,400 sign up through health exchange
Nelly Kinsella demonstrates the Washington Healthplanfinder website, where consumers will be able to shop for health insurance, following a news conference Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - More than 9,400 people in Washington state have signed up for insurance for either themselves or their families in the first week of the state's new health exchange open enrollment period, according to numbers released Monday.

Numbers from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange show that 9,452 enrollments have been completed since the exchange went live Oct. 1. An additional 10,000 applications have been completed and are pending a payment process for enrollment, officials said.

The exchange's website had more than 837,000 visits by 165,332 unique visitors since last week. More than 39,000 accounts were set up, which means people filled out forms with their personal information but didn't necessarily finish their application or sign up for insurance.

Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand said the numbers show that there's a "tremendous amount of interest" in the new exchange, despite the technical glitches the site encountered last week.

"There's new products out there that individuals can find to fit their health insurance needs and their health insurance budget," he said.

The Washington Health Benefit Exchange reported average call center wait times of just over 10 minutes in the first week. However, some customers last week said they waited much longer and others reported the phone system hung up on them after a recorded announcement about unusually heavy call volumes.

Washington residents have six months to buy health insurance through the new exchange during the first enrollment period ending in March.

The state estimates about 1 million Washington state residents do not have health insurance, or about one in seven people. Officials hope to enroll 130,000 people for health insurance in 2014 and 280,000 in 2015. Another 325,000 people will be eligible to sign up for free insurance through Medicaid.

Under the Affordable Care Act, people who don't have insurance in 2014 will pay a fine when they file their federal income taxes in early 2015. The fines for people who ignore the new law are scheduled to increase over time.

Marchand said that officials will continue monitoring the site for any issues in the coming weeks.

"We expect to continue to see high demand," he said.
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