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Originally published March 27, 2014 at 5:20 PM | Page modified March 27, 2014 at 8:51 PM

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State’s online-insurance exchange ramps up for deadline

The Washington health-insurance exchange is bracing for the March 31 sign-up deadline. But potential technical problems are a concern, as was the case for thousands who used the website, only to be stymied somewhere in the application process.


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The Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s online-insurance exchange, endured a litany of performance issues when it first went live in October. Now, it’s gearing up for a smoother ride as it approaches the March 31 deadline for sign-ups.

First, the exchange has steadily been adding staff to its call center and is taking calls on the weekends.

Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Washington Health Benefits Exchange, the public-private agency that manages the exchange, acknowledges that the task of handling the volume of calls is an uphill battle. Despite increasing staff from 140 when the exchange launched to more than 520 in March, hold times are averaging 50 to 55 minutes.

The exchange’s efforts to smooth consumers’ experiences on the Healthplanfinder website have met with greater success.

“The website performance is doing really well,” said Onizuka. “We’re tracking how many applications get through on a first try and that varies between 85 percent and 90 percent. And we are not experiencing unplanned downtimes.”

The exchange is seeing applications surge. In three days this week, it reported nearly 6,000 people have bought insurance, with the total number who have purchased qualified health plans reaching 131,000.

Onizuka said the exchange is closely monitoring website activity. “When we get close to capacity we will be very quick to add resources,” he said.

Onizuka said that if system problems prevent consumers from completing applications before 11:59 p.m. March 31, the exchange will consider special enrollments. “If people have made a reasonable attempt to pay then we can evaluate that and do a special enrollment to get those folks through on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

And from now until the deadline passes, said Onizuka, “It’s all hands on deck.”

— Patrick Marshall



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