By Sharon Salyer Herald Writer
Online bottlenecks are beginning to ease a few days after this week’s opening of the state’s website for people to sign up for individual health insurance plans.
More than 43,000 people have visited the site, which provides consumers one-stop shopping to compare benefits and prices of insurance plans and ultimately sign up for health insurance.
Numbers indicating consumer interest in signing up for health insurance since the online site was launched this week were released by midafternoon Friday. About 65 percent of the people who visited the website signed up for an account, the first step in buying insurance.
The number who completed their applications won’t be available until Monday, said Bethany Frey, spokeswoman for the organization running the site, Washington Healthplanfinder.
However, the final step in signing up for health insurance is paying the first month’s bill or premium. The site won’t be set up to take those payments until December, Frey said. Those insurance plans go into effect Jan. 1.
In Washington, about 1.1 million people don’t have health insurance and about 100,000 of those are in Snohomish County, said Stephanie Marquis, a spokeswoman for the state Insurance Commissioner’s office.
There are a number of reasons why people don’t have health insurance. Young adults can’t be included on their parents’ health insurance once they turn 26. Not all employers provide health insurance as a benefit. People who had health insurance as a job benefit lose it when they’re laid off or are unemployed.
The ability for individuals to sign up for health insurance is a key piece of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The legislation requires everyone to have health insurance or pay a fine next year.
In Washington, the online insurance shopping site was plagued with problems on Tuesday, its first day of operations. The problems included long waits for online information to be displayed. Ultimately, a decision was made to take the site down for about five hours.
Work on the site continued on Wednesday and Thursday so people didn’t have long waits for responses and could more easily compare plans, Frey said.
Similar problems were reported across the nation at both state sites and the federal online site for signups.
In Snohomish County, some people were walking into a second floor office of the Snohomish Health District’s downtown Everett offices to find out more about getting health insurance.
“We’ve had a lot of people with questions,” said Wendy Nelson, who is helping coordinate a program in Snohomish County where people can get one-on-one help in signing up for health insurance. “At least 10 walk-ins a day.”
Nelson said she wasn’t surprised by their interest. “I know a lot of people personally who have struggled to have health insurance and not been able to afford it,” Nelson said. “We have a prime location for people who need this service.”
About a dozen groups in Snohomish County have people trained to help consumers who want help buying individual health insurance plans. They include the Safe Harbor Free Clinic in Stanwood, clinics operated by Sea Mar and the Community Health Center of Snohomish County and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
The nonprofit Community Health Center of Snohomish County talked to 62 families on Wednesday and Thursday and helped seven people fill out health insurance applications, said Mallory Lisk, a spokeswoman for the clinics.
“It’s more the fact- finding stage right now for a lot of people,” Lisk said. “We think October will be fairly quiet, but that November and December will be particularly busy.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consumers interested in buying individual health plans can sign up at www.wahealthplanfinder.org. There’s a Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for health insurance that starts Jan. 1. Consumers can also get information through the state’s toll-free hotline, 855-923-4633.
Here is the most recent information on the number of people who have gone to the state’s website or contacted its toll-free number this week to find out more information on individual health insurance:
Visitors to the health plan finder website:
Non-duplicated number of people who went to the site: 43,629
Total number of times people went to the site: 184,810
Total number of page views: 850,284
Number of accounts created to sign up for insurance: 28,374
Number of calls to toll-free line: 20,363
Average wait time for callers: 14 minutes
Source: Washington Health Plan Finder