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Originally published Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 3:35 PM

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Editorial: Reduce health gap and get uninsured covered under Affordable Care Act

Now is the time for the uninsured to sign up for coverage through the Washington Health Benefit Exchange. The deadline to enroll is March 31.


Seattle Times Editorial

Interactive map: Where the uninsured are

Click on the map to see the rate of uninsured adults in each area.

Garland Potts / Seattle Times

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WHICH neighborhood people live in should not determine how long they live or whether they have access to health care. Especially in a region home to some of the world’s most-advanced health care.

Yet the data is clear: Life expectancy rates by ZIP code vary by as much as a decade throughout the region. Just 3 percent of the 98040 ZIP code, Mercer Island, lacks insurance. The average island resident has a life span of 86 years.

In the 98002 ZIP code, Auburn, 24 percent lack insurance. An Auburn resident can expect to live an average of 76 years. One-third of residents in some South King County ZIP codes lack insurance.

A huge opportunity to close this health-disparity gap — and ensure hundreds of thousands of Washington residents access to care — is upon us. The deadline to sign up for private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is March 31.

For the poorest, insurance might be free. For lower-income people and families, subsidies are available. Failing to enroll can mean small fines later this year, and the next enrollment window does not open until late fall.

This is a moment to bug friends, neighbors and family.

More than 469,000 people signed up for insurance through the state exchange, wahealthplanfinder.org, including 112,000 who purchased insurance and 235,079 adults who are newly eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act is here, and it’s staying. The fractious partisan debate and a botched national rollout, and some glitches with the state exchange, overshadowed the welcomed consequences of a more fully insured nation.

Just this month, the state Legislature passed a sweeping new law made possible by the Affordable Care Act. In the coming years, the state plans to integrate mental-health, chemical-dependency and primary-health-care programs.

With better coordination and cost control, the state estimates savings of $730 million in the next five years. The broader coverage of Affordable Care Act makes this possible. More such cost-containment focus at state and national level is overdue.

There are also hidden savings in wider insurance coverage. Better health equates to higher productivity and less dependence on federal and state human services. Before the Affordable Care Act, roughly one in seven Washington residents — nearly 1 million people — were uninsured.

Leading up to the March 31 enrollment deadline, King County public-health officials have worked diligently for months, partnering with 23 community organizations. A last push would help, particularly to reach groups with cultural, technological and language barriers. Many immigrants and low-income families have never had consistent health care, let alone insurance with premiums and deductibles. Help them sign up now.

For more information on enrollment, visit coverkingcounty.com or wahealthplanfinder.org. Call 1-855-WAFINDER.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).



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