Despite D.C. 'Shenanigans,' Wash. to Launch Health Exchange

Sep 30, 2013

Even as Congress squabbles over the fate of health care reform, Washington’s insurance marketplace opens its virtual doors Tuesday morning.

As Gov. Jay Inslee put it, "Despite the shenanigans in D.C., we're ready to [launch our health care exchange].”

Officials running the exchange said their federal grants have already been appropriated and they expect to be fully funded through next year.

Users will be able to log in to starting at 7:30 a.m. What they will find is a fairly nondescript site, with broad green bars on either side, simple text questions down the center and a blue sketch of Mount Rainier down by the footer.

The page where consumers you actually shop for plans looks a bit like comparing airfares on a travel site, but Operations Program Manager Brad Finnegan said it will take a bit longer.

“You're not just buying a flight where you're picking between an aisle or a window seat. You're making a complicated choice,” Finnegan said.

That means trading off premiums and deductibles, locking in tax credits and figuring out hospital networks. Overall, it may be more like doing your taxes than buying a plane ticket.

State officials hope as many as 130,000 people will buy plans on the site before Dec. 23, the deadline for getting coverage that starts on the first of the year. The open enrollment period continues through March 31, after which people will have to wait several months before they can buy again.

Demoncratic State Sen. Karen Kaiser said the result will be a landmark, achieving near-universal coverage for the first time.

“Think back to the 1930s when social security was just getting started. Think back to the 1960s when Medicare was just starting. That’s where we’re at in 2014,” Kaiser said.

Site designers say they’ll be ready for heavy traffic, and will have teams of technicians on alert for any glitches.