Margaret Stanley “Washington Healthplanfinder is Milestone in Health Care Reform”

As I prepare to relinquish the gavel as Chair of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange Board, I am reflecting on what an honor it has been to be associated with the historic achievement of health care reform in Washington State. I’ve been involved in efforts to expand health insurance coverage since the 1980s, starting with the rollout of the Basic Health Plan in 1987. The Basic Health Plan provided health insurance to residents, with premiums subsidized based on the income of the person. People who signed up for the plan were grateful for the coverage, but we never had enough money to cover all the people who needed and wanted insurance.

In 1993, our State passed one of the most far-reaching health care reform laws in the country. I was disappointed when most of the law was repealed by the Legislature two years later. Many of us in health care policy and health administration continued to work together on community-wide efforts to increase access to care, improve quality of care and control costs. For several years, I served as Executive Director of the Puget Sound Health Alliance (now the Washington Health Alliance), which was dedicated to improving quality of care as well as controlling costs. But the part that was missing was our ability to provide health insurance coverage at an affordable cost to all Washingtonians.

Finally, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we are able to provide coverage to more residents than ever before. Our State chose to run its own marketplace, and I’m glad that it did. The Exchange has a wonderful Board of Directors who are committed to the success of health care reform and work together collaboratively. It has been a great honor to work with such an outstanding group of people. We were blessed to have a talented and extremely committed staff, led by our CEO, Richard Onizuka. They pulled off what has been described as “a miracle.”

While many other exchanges had difficult rollouts, Washington Healthplanfinder did remarkably well, enrolling more than one million residents in coverage. While we are one of the top state exchanges in the country, we have had our share of challenges. It would be impossible not to, given the complexity of the project and the short timeframe we had to implement it. But every day, performance gets better and better, and we are delighted when we hear reports of people whose lives are being changed (even saved!) because they now have health insurance.

In June, I will say goodbye to my fellow Board Members and welcome the Exchange’s new Board Chair, former King County Executive Ron Sims. Ron was Board Chair of the Washington Health Alliance and was my boss when I was the Executive Director. Ron is passionate about health care reform and has been a tremendous leader in the field. We are very fortunate he agreed to chair the Exchange Board. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to chair the Board; it has been one of the highlights of my life.

Exchange Improving Customer Experience

In early April, the Exchange announced an extended enrollment period for customers who were unable to enroll by March 31 due to Washington Healthplanfinder system errors, long wait times at the Customer Support Center or other barriers. Approximately 1,800 customers applied for the extended enrollment period. Customers who were granted an extended enrollment period must return to Washington Healthplanfinder and complete their enrollment by May 30. We will continue to work with customers to resolve system errors that may prevent them from completing their application.

Some customers have experienced data issues and defects that have resulted in inaccurate invoice statements. The Exchange released a public statement addressing the issue, which you can read in the Exchange Press Room. System improvements have been implemented and staff are working closely with IT vendor Deloitte to resolve outstanding payment and invoicing issues.

A recent system update has changed the format that passwords are sent through email to Washington Healthplanfinder account holders and included other modifications to the website that are not visible, such as data fixes and reducing the incidence of error codes. More detailed information about the recent system updates is available on the Status Center.

Young Adult Outreach Continues through Music Partnership

In January, Washington Healthplanfinder teamed up with Live Nation, producer of the Sasquatch! Music Festival, to reach out to young adults. The collaboration helped educate music fans at concerts and online with information about affordable health care options. To continue to build brand awareness among young adults, the partnership with Live Nation will continue throughout the summer. The new collaboration kicked off with an interactive presence at the Sasquatch! Music Festival over Memorial Day weekend, where staff interacted with music fans at a Washington Healthplanfinder branded tent and a cell phone charging station. Prominent signage and informational materials will also be present at Live Nation concerts at the Gorge Amphitheatre throughout the summer.

The Exchange launched another sweepstakes with Live Nation on May 22 for a chance to win tickets for a year to any event available on Ticketmaster. To enter the sweepstakes, which will run until Sept. 30, go to www.facebook.com/WAHealthplanfinder, “like” our Facebook page and submit an entry form for the sweepstakes.

Carriers Submit 2014-2015 Health Plans to Office of the Insurance Commissioner

While the first open enrollment period has ended, the Exchange is already gearing up for the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15, 2014 for coverage that starts on Jan. 1, 2015. The Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner recently announced 12 health insurers have filed 114 individual health plans to sell on Washington Healthplanfinder. Additionally, two health insurers submitted plans to sell on Washington Healthplanfinder Business for small businesses with up to 50 employees. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest intends to continue selling small business plans in Clark and Cowlitz counties, while Moda Health Plan Inc. submitted rates for small business plans that would be available statewide.

The proposed plans will be reviewed by the OIC and the Exchange to ensure that each plan meets strict benefit and quality standards. The approved plans will then go through a certification process by the Exchange Board. Certified plans will be available for purchase on Washington Healthplanfinder beginning Nov. 15. You can read more about the carriers that filed health plans here.

Qualifying Life Events Allow for Special Enrollment Period

Open enrollment for Qualified Health Plans has ended, but you may be eligible for a special enrollment period through Washington Healthplanfinder if you have a qualifying life event, such as having a baby, moving to a new address or getting married. A special enrollment period lasts 60 days from the date of the qualifying life event. Read our special enrollment FAQ for a full list of qualifying life events and necessary documents for applying.

As a reminder, Washington Apple Health, enrollment in health plans for American Indians/Alaska Natives and enrollment in Washington Healthplanfinder Business continues year-round. The next open enrollment period to purchase Qualified Health Plans runs from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15, 2015 for coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

Editor’s Note: This Op-Ed originally appeared in the Washington Healthplanfinder News Today newsletter on Friday, May 30