Washington Residents Are Flocking to the State Health Care Exchange

The marketplace has proven popular with Washingtonians, even as GOP leaders consider ways to dismantle the law that created it.

Andrew Vait, a Seattle-based self-employed musician, says he used the exchange to get covered. Courtesy Washington Healthplanfinder

The popularity of the Washington Healthplanfinder—an online marketplace where Washingtonian individuals, families and small-businesses can search, compare and enroll in health insurance coverage—has increased rapidly in the last three months.

On Tuesday, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange reported that 200,612 customers living in Washington have registered on Washington Healthfinder during the enrollment period running Nov. 1, 2016 through Jan. 31—a 14-percent increase compared to the same enrollment period from last year.

This popularity boost is partly due to a 45-percent increase in the population of new customers looking for coverage without federal financial support, the exchange said.

“We are witnessing a shift in how people in the individual marketplace are purchasing health insurance and are excited to see more customers at all income levels using Washington Healthplanfinder,” Pat MacEwan, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, said in the statement. “For middle income families and individuals who may not qualify for federal financial assistance, Washington Healthplanfinder provides the best place for comparing prices to locate the most value in health and dental benefits.”

Washington health plans did not see the large spike in premium costs other states did, the exchange announced in October. While so-called “silver” plans saw premium increases of 25 percent in some states, comparable plans here rose 8 percent in cost.

Amid the Republicans’ current plan to repeal Obamacare, it is still unclear what will happen with insurance marketplaces—which offered 12.7 million people coverage plans Nationwide in 2016. Eligible Americans whose jobs don’t provide them with health coverage can use these marketplaces to compare insurance plans and choose the most convenient one for their pockets.

But there is a detail that Republicans particularly dislike about these marketplaces–they offer federal subsidies to low- and moderate-income customers, especially for monthly premiums.

While Washington saw a large increase in middle-income customers on the exchange, 85 percent of the Washington Healthplanfinder registered customers still receive financial aid to pay their health plan, according to its webpage. Some of these insurance plans are free if a low-income person is eligible for a full subsidy, which is provided through Washington Apple Health (Medicaid) or Qualified Health Plans with tax credits.

Applicants don’t need to be American citizens to be eligible for coverage through this program, as it offers its services to immigrants including asylees, refugees and international students.

Andrew Vait, a Seattle-based self-employed musician, shared his own experience on the Washington Health Benefit Exchange webpage, saying that he found out about the Washington Healthplanfinder through a friend in 2014.

“I found a good plan on their website and I even got help paying for it,” Vait says on the webpage. “It was super easy so I’m going to sign up again this year. Now I’m covered so I can focused more on my music.”

The Washington Healthplanfinder is offering free in-person enrollment assistance this week:

Jan. 11, 13: Olympia

Jan. 12: Aberdeen, Seattle

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