Washington health exchange is short of enrollment goal

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SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington health exchange on Thursday was 81,000 people short of its enrollment goal for the period with just over a week remaining for signups.

A total of 87,528 people have renewed their insurance from last year through Washington Healthplanfinder. Another 44,779 have bought new insurance.

That total of 132,307 is well short of the pre-season goal of 213,000 people buying insurance through the exchange this year.

Officials with the exchange remained optimistic that there will be a last-minute rush to buy coverage. Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand offered a list of ways to explain the shortfall:

—About 10,000 people discovered when they went to renew their insurance that they're now eligible for free coverage through Medicaid.

—Some people are waiting until the last minute to sign up because they over-extended themselves financially over the holidays and want to put off paying premiums as long as possible.

— More than 30,000 signed up during the last two weeks of enrollment in 2014.

—Thousands had a birthday and are now on Medicare.

—Some people moved out of state or got a job or secured insurance through a spouse's job and don't need to buy insurance through the exchange.

—Some people have decided they'd rather pay another tax penalty than a monthly cost to buy insurance.

The goal of 213,000 new enrollees might seem unreachable by Feb. 15, but Marchand doesn't think exchange officials have failed.

"The goal of the (Affordable Care Act) and the goal of the exchange is to work in our state to lower the uninsured rate of individuals who haven't been covered in the past," Marchand said.

In Washington, thanks to much higher than expected Medicaid enrollment, 640,000 people who didn't have insurance before health care reform are now covered, according to exchange figures.

"We're 100,000 ahead," of the overall goal, Marchand said. "I don't think we're panicking."

Marchand said a better word to describe the mindset around the exchange is curious. Officials have been talking to people who haven't signed up for insurance and will continue to explore the reasons why the goal was too high.

That information will help them set goals for the third year of open enrollment.

When people file their taxes in early 2016, those who didn't have health insurance in 2015 will have to pay a penalty of $325 per adult and $162.50 per child in their household. The family maximum penalty is $975 or 2 percent of income, whichever is greater.

The fine goes up to 2.5 percent or $695 per adult and $347.50 per child in 2017, for not buying insurance in 2016. The maximum family penalty will equal $2,085 or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater.

The exchange is keeping in contact with people who signed up last year, and insurance companies are reaching out to customers to encourage them to sign up again.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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