King County health officials have reached out to remaining pockets of uninsured people, including taxi drivers and cabaret dancers, as the deadline for obtaining insurance in 2016 looms. Those who don’t have insurance face steep fines this time.
More than 190,000 people have signed up for health insurance on Washington’s state exchange, with thousands more expected to enroll by the Sunday deadline.
“Our goal was to have more than 200,000 people select plans by the end of open enrollment and it would appear that we’re on pace to get that, if not exceed it,” said Michael Marchand, spokesman for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.
The numbers have been bolstered by innovative outreach efforts — including a push by King County health workers to sign up at least 500 uninsured taxi drivers — and by the threat of sharp fines this year for those who forgo coverage.
How to sign up
On the phone: 1-855-923-4633 until 8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to midnight Sunday. Also, TTY/TDD: 1-855-627-9604.
In person: Locations where you can get help Friday night and Saturday in Seattle, Puyallup and Olympia: www.wahbexchange.org/events/
Call an insurance broker or agent or an in-person navigator: A list of people can be found by ZIP code using the customer support link on wahealthplanfinder.org
“Our message has been ‘Get enrolled. Don’t pay the penalty,’” said Daphne Pie, manager of access and outreach for Public Health – Seattle and King County.
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She and her staff have spent months sending emails, posting fliers and urging drivers in several languages to show up at Showalter Middle School in Tukwila on Saturday to make sure they’re insured.
“This is an experiment,” she said. “It’s going to be lessons learned. How do we build on this for next year?”
Taxi drivers, Uber drivers and towncar drivers are likely to be among the 600,000 Washington state residents who still lack health insurance required under the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). Pie’s crew has also held open-house events to target other self-employed workers, including cabaret dancers and band musicians.
This year, the penalty for skippingthe ACA mandate to have insurance is $695 per adult and $347.50 per child under age 18 — or 2.5 percent of annual income, whichever is higher.
In previous years, the fines have been lower, but self-employed workers have still been shocked when funds were withheld from their annual income-tax refund, money they count on, Pie said.
About 70 percent of those who’ve signed up for the exchange are newcomers, rather than renewals, Marchand said. And many of them will wait until this weekend to consider coverage.
“People have it on their radar, and they just put it off until the last minute,” he added.
Early glitches in the process have mostly been ironed out. Officials at the Washington Insurance Commissioner’s office say they’ve received fewer complaints from consumers, though there have been problems with website, passwords and the software.
Marchand credits improvements to the website and a change last fall that means customers using the exchange now send payments directly to insurers.
“The site is working better, and people understand more about how to find their insurance,” he said.
The number of people without health insurance in Washington topped 1 million in 2013 and is down about 40 percent. New coverage has been led by a huge expansion of Medicaid, through Washington’s Apple Health Plan, which now enrolls nearly 600,000 people.
Nationwide, 11.3 million people have signed up for marketplace coverage, federal health officials said.