Rough launch for state's health exchange website

Washington state’s online health insurance shopping website experienced technical issues during its launch on Tuesday, Oct. 1, the first day uninsured individuals could go online to peruse coverage options.

The website, which is available at, was shut down for about five hours after opening early on Tuesday morning. Initial users reported problems with long wait times to access information and complete online applications. Read more coverage of this development from our partners at The Daily Herald in Everett, Wash.

Health care exchanges opened nationwide on Tuesday, part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”

Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, issued a statement at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, saying that initial problems with Washington’s insurance shopping site has been addressed, and the site was back online. However, Onizuka said some users may still experience problems with certain tools as additional Web maintenance is completed.

The Bellingham Business Journal attempted to access the site at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 2. Most pages on the site were functional, although occassional long loading times and loading failures still occurred.

Tips on where to get more information

Locally, information is available from the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement, online at

A toll-free hotline for information on buying individual health insurance plans in Washington is available at 1-855-923-4633.

Information on how to sign up for health insurance is available at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange,, and at the state Insurance Commissioner’s Office website,

A map listing the organizations and addresses for help and information is available at

Key dates

Oct. 1: Consumers can begin comparison shopping and signing up online for individual health insurance plans.

Jan. 1, 2014: Insurance coverage begins for those who have signed up.

March 31, 2014: The deadline to sign up for individual health insurance plans for 2014.

For a chart to help you compare insurance plans, go to:

What changes

Starting Jan. 1, no adult can be denied health insurance because of a medical problem, sometimes called a pre-existing condition. The rule already is in place for children.

All health insurance bought by individuals and small employer health plans that go into effect on Jan. 1 must include coverage for the following:

Outpatient services
Emergency services
Maternity and newborn care
Mental health, substance abuse disorders
Prescription drugs
Rehabilitative services, such as physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy
Laboratory services
Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

Sources: Washington State Insurance Commissioner’s Office and Washington Health Benefit Exchange

Additional privacy tips

Courtesy of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange

1. Don’t Share Your Private Information: Under no circumstances will Washington Healthplanfinder or Apple Health (Medicaid) ask for your personal information, such as your social security number or banking information, via an unsolicited call or email. Never share this information with someone you don’t know, and always ask for proof of identity.

2. Free Help is Available through Trained Individuals: Only individuals who are certified by Washington Healthplanfinder or Medicaid to assist you with the enrollment process should request personal information to complete your application during a scheduled visit. This help is always free. If you don’t know whether someone is certified to assist you, call the Washington Healthplanfinder Customer Support Center at 1-855-WAFINDER. (Community volunteers trained by Medicaid can be verified by calling 1-800-562-3022 or emailing )

3. Verify the Web Address of the Exchange: The only official web address for the online marketplace is Any other site with a variation on the name or with an address that ends in *.net or *.com is not the state’s official marketplace. If you’re unsure of a website, call Washington Healthplanfinder toll-free at 1-855-WAFINDER. If you suspect a site is fraudulent, contact the Insurance Commissioner’s office at 1-800-562-6900.

4. Don’t be fooled by Imitations: is the official health insurance marketplace for the state of Washington and the only place where you can receive tax credits, subsidies or access to free coverage through Medicaid or Washington Apple Health. Do not be fooled by imitations. There is never any cost in signing up for free or low-cost health coverage.

5. The Exchange Does Not Cover Medicare: Washington Healthplanfinder does not offer supplemental coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. Do not be fooled by individuals telling you they can enroll you in new Medicare coverage under the Affordable Care Act or through the “Exchange.” If you suspect someone of Medicare fraud, call the Insurance Commissioner at 1-800-562-6900.

6. Report Scams: If you receive an unsolicited request for your personal information to enroll in health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, ask for the individual’s name, associated organization and phone number to verify the information, or do not respond.

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