Health care exchange in Washington state has more problems; website offline until this evening

By Donna Gordon Blankinship
The Associated Press

SEATTLE — Washington state’s new health insurance exchange experienced more problems on Wednesday, its second day of operation.

The website wahealthplanfinder.org offers visitors a friendly, bright green welcome page, but the internal workings were plagued by glitches.

Still, some people were able to sign up for health insurance as part of the nation’s new health care law, according to officials with the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Others encountered slow loading times and trouble completing online applications.

More than 170,000 people visited the site on Tuesday and more than 6,000 accounts have been created. Data on how many people have signed up for insurance won’t be available until Friday.

A call to a help line reached a friendly operator telling people the site was experiencing difficulties and to try back in an hour or so.

Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, thanked people for their patience.

“While we have experienced some expected bumps in the road, the corrections made last night and continued enhancements to the site over time will ensure a smooth application process for those seeking and enrolling in health coverage,” he wrote in a statement.

The site will be shut down from 10 p.m. Wednesday until 6 a.m. today for further maintenance, said Michael Marchand, spokesman for the Health Benefit Exchange.

His advice for people having trouble: Save your work so far, log off and come back later.

“It’s disappointing because we don’t want people’s first engagement of our website to be anything short of a great consumer experience,” Marchand said. But he notes that people have until Dec. 23 to sign up for insurance that goes into effect on Jan. 1.

Problems closed the website on Tuesday shortly after it launched. The site reopened later in the day, but glitches continued.

Site managers blamed unexpected user activity and interaction with the marketplace for some of the problems.

Onizuka said his technical team did extensive testing before the launch.

“We totally understand the frustration,” Marchand said. “We’re going to continue to make the site better.”

They welcome feedback from the public on the phone and via email at customersupport@wahbexchange.org.

In addition to the online marketplace, Washington residents can sign up by telephone or in person. Officials say it takes about an hour to go through the process for an individual and a little longer for a family.

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.

The state hopes to enroll 130,000 people for health insurance in 2014 and another 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.

Last modified: October 02. 2013 6:37PM
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