WA health exchange website hits snag on first day

SEATTLE (AP) — The website for Washington state’s new health exchange got off to a rough start Tuesday, going offline for nearly six hours after officials shut it down to assess why it was operating so slowly.

Michael Marchand, a spokesman for the new health insurance marketplace, said at midday Tuesday that the problem was not related to the volume of visitors or to the federal government shutdown.

The wahealthplanfinder.org website opened again for business at around 2 p.m.

Marchand compared the experience to any new software launch and said glitches come with the territory.

Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said he wished the first day had gone smoother, but “realistically, it’s a huge undertaking.”

“Don’t put too much on the first couple of days,” he said. “The system is going to work.”

Meanwhile, people continued to sign up for health insurance in Washington state by telephone or in person. Officials said it takes about an hour to go through the process for an individual or a little longer for a family.

Mayet Dalila, 53, was signing up in person at the Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center in Seattle early Tuesday. The self-employed community organizer and diversity trainer said she hasn’t had health insurance for about a year.

Because she cares for her mother and her son, who both have insurance, Dalila said she was worried about getting sick and not being able to fulfill her family obligations.

“I’m trying to stay healthy, so that’s not the issue,” she said. “I just didn’t want something to happen.”

At a news conference at the same clinic, Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington state is moving forward on health insurance for all, no matter what happens in Washington, D.C.

“This isn’t some ideological discussion. This is about real people,” Inslee said. “What this is going to mean is life itself for people across the state of Washington.”

Several people who signed up for insurance on Tuesday and found out they were eligible for Medicaid also spoke at the news conference and thanked the governor and other state officials for making it possible.

Vera Johnson, 44, a divorced mother of two who runs a small business in south Seattle, said she was surprised to find out her insurance would be free.

“This health care reform means I’m not quite one step away from crisis anymore,” Johnson said.

The wahealthplanfinder.org website opened a few hours before the official 7:30 a.m. start time, Marchand said, but was taken offline a short time later.

The phone number for people to call, 855-923-4633, was not affected, and people were still able to go to designated sign-up locations around the state. Marchand said thousands called in early Tuesday.

Washington officials warned people not to be fooled by fraud sites set up to look like wahealthplanfinder.org. Kreidler asked Washington residents to report any look-alike sites to his office.

Some of those sites were set up by licensed insurance agents attempting to increase business, but others may be scammers attempting to get personal information such as social security numbers, said Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

Washington residents have six months to buy health insurance through the new exchange during the first enrollment period, which ends in March.

The state estimates about 1 million Washington residents do not have health insurance, or about one in seven people.

The state hopes to enroll 130,000 people for health insurance in 2014 and another 280,000 in 2015.

Another 325,000 people will be eligible to sign up for free insurance through Medicaid.

Under the Affordable Care Act, people who don’t have insurance in 2014 will pay a fine when they file their federal income taxes in early 2015. The fines for people who ignore the new law are scheduled to increase over time.

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