(Mostly) Smooth Sailing As State Health Insurance Exchange Opens
By Roberta Riley
“This is awesome! What a relief,” she exclaimed when the message flashed up on her screen: starting New Year’s Day 2014, Ingrid will have no-cost health insurance. “I can finally get my knee fixed.”
Everyday she carts her shovel, loppers, saw and clippers up and down Seattle’s steepest neighborhoods, tending gardens, digging up shrubs and pruning trees. As the sole proprietor of Seabiscuit Landscaping, Ingrid cannot afford to be hobbled by a bum knee.
“Now that I don’t have to worry about how to pay for surgery, maybe I can start saving for retirement,” she said. This year she turns 50, and every day she worries about how to make ends meet, especially as she gets older.
Happily, she is one of the millions of Americans who will benefit from the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.
The brand-new federal healthcare exchange got off to a rocky start in October during the debt ceiling drama when Republicans shut down the federal government in an effort to defund this health reform measure.
But people in our state fared much better because our leaders opted to create our own state exchange. As of this writing, over 62,000 Washingtonians have signed up for coverage using Washington Healthplanfinder.
Ingrid is one of them. She now has the peace of mind that, come January 1, she can see a doctor without fear that medical bills will bankrupt her.
She kindly allowed me to observe as she ploughed through the online enrollment process, which took about an hour. This enabled us to come up with a few tips to help others in our state get enrolled:
Before you begin, have a good strong cup of coffee and gather:
- last year’s tax return and this month’s income information;
- your bank account information; and
- the names and correct spellings of any doctors and/or hospital(s) where you would want to be treated.
Then go to the official website://www.wahealthplanfinder.org/
(Beware to type every letter correctly – there are scam sites out there.)
Click on the box to begin an application, bearing in mind the site has some fussy features, such as no AutoCorrect and a limited number of symbols that must be used to create one’s personal password.
Don’t be stymied by the strange, multiple-choice security questions at the outset. My hunch is some of those questions are intended to verify you are a real human being, not a machine. (But I confess, I am not a computer programmer.)
The next round of questions asking about pregnancy status, long-term care, whether any college students live in your household and whether you have unpaid medical expenses, are geared to helping people get into a certain programs.
Last of all come questions about income, which determines whether an applicant qualifies for no-cost or low-cost coverage.
This part was somewhat perplexing for Ingrid because in one place, the application asked about monthly income, and in another about monthly business income. As a sole proprietor, Ingrid’s income is one and the same. So, at first she filled in the same amount in both places, but quickly realized doing so made her income appear double what it actually is. Then she put her last month’s income into the “gross monthly amount” bracket and a zero into the business income bracket, and was able to properly deduct her business expenses by dividing by 12 the total amount declared on her previous year’s tax return.
She checked her work for accuracy, then pressed the next button and immediately learned of her new, no-cost coverage, a feature of the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act. Her face beamed as she read the good news. It was a sweet moment.
Then an error message popped up: “the application has malfunctioned.” She wondered if she’d entered something incorrectly. She feared she might have to redo the entire application.
So she dialed the official call center and learned the system is currently overwhelmed with high volumes of people eager to enroll.
Fortunately, Ingrid’s fears did not materialize. Within hours, she received an email message with a link asking her to login to the official website once again.
She clicked on the link, logged in with her username and password, and, to her delight, it all worked. A message promptly popped up indicating her application was received and her Washington Apple Health Adult coverage begins 1-1-14. Nine more pages of information about her new coverage followed. As her eyes skimmed the words on her screen, a smile spread over her face. At long last, financial security is within her reach.
Roberta Riley is Communications Consultant at Northwest Health Law Advocates and a Member of PSARA.