On Wash. Health Exchange, Strong Numbers and Some Anxiety

Nov 20, 2013

Washington’s new health insurance exchange has been touting its strong enrollment numbers, especially in comparison to the deeply-troubled federal exchange. But members of the board overseeing the exchange are starting to express some anxiety about meeting their signup goals.

The exchange reports 98,399 enrollments, as of mid-November. But the vast majority, 88 percent, are enrolled in the government-sponsored Medicaid program. The state needs to get many more people into private qualified health plans, or QHPs, to create a functioning market.

“If we don’t increase the QHP enrollment, this risk pool is going to collapse,” said Phil Dyer, a board member and former state legislator who spoke at a board meeting Wednesday.

Without a big, diverse enough pool of policyholders, insurance companies would likely have to raise premiums. The state has just about a month to meet its goal of 130,000 enrollees in the private market. So far just 11,742 people have purchased qualified health plans.

Communications Director Michael Marchand said he expects a big rush of signups leading up to Dec. 23, the deadline to make a payment in order to be covered starting in January.

“If I know I don’t have to pay for something until December I'm probably not doing anything right now,” Marchand said, responding to questions from the board. “It’s like filing your taxes, you know, it’s like, 'Hey, why would I want to do that any earlier than I have to?”'

One key number to watch: 32,176 people have completed applications for a private plan, but haven’t paid yet. Even the modest number of people who have paid puts Washington near the top among states; only California and New York have more.