The Open Enrollment period for purchasing discount health insurance begins next week, and King County is offering free expert help – with special emphasis on areas where large numbers of uninsured people live and work.
Those areas include south King County cities such as Auburn and Federal Way, along with some neighborhoods in Seattle and Bellevue. Some of the major enrollment events this year include:
- Sat. Nov. 7 – Seattle City Hall, 10am-3pm
- Sat. Nov. 14 – The Outlet Collection (mall), Auburn, 10am-3pm
- Sat. Nov. 21 – Bellevue Crossroads Shopping Center, 10am-3pm
- Sat. Jan. 9 – Third Place Commons, Lake Forest Park, 10am-3pm
- Sat. Jan. 16 – Federal Way Commons, 10am-3pm
Health insurance assistance will also return to public library branches in neighborhoods across the county.
This year, many people signing up for insurance can also get Metro Transit’s discount transit passes (called ORCA LIFT).
Taxi drivers, restaurant and nail salon workers
Overall, a targeted outreach effort will help the remaining adults and families in King County who do not have insurance — and connect them with Washington Healthplanfinder. Public Health—Seattle & King County has analyzed enrollment patterns and data from the US Census Bureau to identify zip codes where there are likely larger numbers of people who remain uninsured. Those areas will get extra attention.
“We know disparities still exist in King County, in terms of who is uninsured, and we want to create more awareness in communities where there are higher rates of being uninsured,” said Daphne Pie, manager of Public Health’s Access & Outreach program.
Additional outreach will focus on:
- Hispanic and Vietnamese small businesses, such as nail salons and restaurants
- taxi drivers at major taxi companies, who will receive text messages along with direct contact at an airport waiting area
Private agencies that are part of King County’s network of health insurance Navigators also offer public enrollment events. For example, on Nov. 14th in Rainier Valley, the Somali Health Board hosts a health fair, open to the public. All enrollment events are listed on King County’s Coverage webpage.
Renewals also a big focus
Public Health is a Lead Organization for coordinating the work of Navigators. Certified Navigators can login to the online enrollment system to assist anyone who wants help.
They also can help people who need to renew their insurance – and who may get a better deal by changing plans. For the first time, customers won’t pay directly on Healthplanfinder, but will arrange payment via invoice through their insurance company.
The period from Nov. 1, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016, is the annual time when anyone can buy insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder, and those with qualifying incomes get tax credits that lower the cost of the insurance. About 80 percent of customers qualify for discounts. (Anyone who qualifies for free coverage through Medicaid (also called Apple Health) can sign up year-round.)
Dramatic decrease in number of uninsured adults in King County
The first two years of enrollment, since Washington Healthplanfinder launched under the Affordable Care Act in 2013, have enabled thousands of Washington residents to gain insurance coverage – allowing many people to see a doctor for the first time in years and protecting them from financial hardship due to medical bills. In King County, the number of uninsured adults declined by nearly 40-percent during the first year of enrollment alone.
The effort to identify and assist people who are without insurance has benefited from what King County Executive Dow Constantine calls an “all hands on deck” approach. This brings together multiple agencies, within and outside of county government. They’re all helping get out the word about the new options for insurance coverage.
There’s more urgency this year, too, because anyone who hasn’t enrolled in a health insurance plan in 2016 may be subject to a fine from the IRS of $695 per individual or up to 2.5 percent of their income, whichever is greater.