Washington Health Exchange Banking On A Big March Surge In Enrollments

Mar 21, 2014

Most Americans who still don’t have health insurance by March 31 could face a fine, and Washington’s health benefits exchange is hoping the looming deadline will help motivate people to enroll. But so far, the exchange is lagging behind its goals.

Massachusetts, which served as a template for the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to get insurance or pay a penalty, saw a huge rush just before the deadline. Exchange board member Phil Dyer says Washington needs a similar surge.

“Well, I feel like we’re behind the power curve. We’ve got a long way to go,” Dyer said. “Let’s wait and see if March gets us there, and then take a hard look at planning for Exchange 2.0.”

As of mid-March, about 112,225 people had signed up for private plans through Washington’s exchange. That’s about 20,000 short of what they were hoping to have back at the end of December. A spokesman says the exchange now hopes to hit that goal by the end of this month.

Dyer says he is equally concerned about recruiting more healthy young people into the risk pool. Insurers are depending on them to offset the older people who are expensive to cover. Through February, enrollees between 18 and 35 years old made up 23 percent — a number Dyer says is too low. 

“We have an adverse risk pool at this point. That’s not an attractive place for issuers to want to play,” he said.

Dyer says that could mean insurance companies raise premiums. The law requires them to make any individual plan they offer off the exchange also available on the exchange, but Dyer points out the companies could simply stop marketing to exchange customers.

The insurance companies may give the exchange more time to iron out kinks before making any big changes, Dyer says.