Whatcom nonprofit tapped to aid state's new health exchange

The Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement, a nonprofit organization based in Bellingham, is one of 10 lead organizations chosen by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange to help uninsured state residents enroll in health plans starting Oct. 1.

The nonprofit was awarded $970,000 by the Exchange to provide impartial information to help people search, compare and enroll in health plans offered on Washington Healthplanfinder, the state’s new online marketplace for health insurance.

In addition to providing information, the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement will also build and oversee a network of partners in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan, Island and Snohomish counties to provide the new service.

There are 117,800 people in those five counties combined without health insurance who will have a chance to enroll in health plans starting in October, and then access coverage beginning in January 2014, according to the nonprofit.

The initiative is part of the federal Affordable Care Act, the regulatory overhaul of the nation’s health care system signed into law in 2010. The new law mandates for most people to carry health insurance coverage by Jan. 1, 2014, or face fines.

Washington received $6 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop an in-person assistance program to serve residents in all areas of the state. The state’s Exchange also expects to receive $1.6 million through in-kind contributions from lead organizations in the form of additional staff and other agency resources.

Washington Healthplanfinder will allow individuals, families and small businesses to make “apples-to-apples” comparisons of health insurance plans, determine if they are eligible for low-cost or free options, and choose the plan that fits their needs and their budgets, according to a press release.

“This is another example of Washington state being ahead of the curve—making sure our residents have a marketplace where they can get the health insurance they need and want,” Gov. Jay Inslee said, in a statement. “This consumer support is essential to getting every Washington resident covered so they can get the health care they need.”

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