Why the Washington State Marketplace Is Working Well

By Liz Hagan

At Enroll America, a lot of our work is focused on helping the 34 federally facilitated and partnership marketplaces improve the consumer experience surrounding enrollment in new health coverage options made available by the Affordable Care Act. However, we can’t forget about the work in the 17 state-based marketplaces (SBM), as they have a lot to share and everyone has a lot to learn.

Today we are highlighting the successes of one SBM: Washington. As of December 3, the Evergreen State has enrolled more than 176,000 consumers in health coverage through their health insurance marketplace, the HealthPlanFinder. Of this, about 18,000 enrolled in qualified health plans and about 158,000 have enrolled in Medicaid (either newly-eligible or eligible for immediate coverage). For a full break down of their latest enrollment numbers, see here.

What’s behind their success?

Outreach has been critical to the effort. Yes, the site is functioning and people are able to successfully enroll, but people won’t shop for something if they don’t know it exists. Our work at Enroll America is focused, in large part, on outreach and education, and the work being done in Washington on this front cannot be emphasized enough. King County Public Health in Seattle, for example, has made a sizeable effort to tell people about their new health coverage options:

  • More than 600 individuals (both full-time employees and volunteers) have been trained to help connect consumers to coverage,
  • A texting program was initiated to help consumers find assisters, and
  • The state launched a marketing campaign to help spread the word. Check out this ad:

These strategies, when combined, are leaving a sizeable footprint in Washington State, and will continue to make an impact throughout the rest of this open enrollment period.

The takeaway? It’s not too late to start thinking about outreach and education in your state—there are still about 4 months left of open enrollment.

They’ve had time to plan and work together. For example, in July, there was a statewide enrollment summit convened by the Governor’s Office that brought together stakeholders working on outreach and enrollment prior to the start of open enrollment. This type of convening allowed stakeholders to brainstorm about what types of policies and systems would be most effective in their state. Extra time allowed groups such as the Washington Hospital Association to contribute valuable insights and great resources, such as this outreach and enrollment guide for hospitals. Many states that we have worked with—whether FFMs or SBMs—have told us about the importance of these kinds of meetings. There is still time to think about hosting a convening meeting during this open enrollment period or to begin planning for next open enrollment in November 2014—these meetings will likely make a big difference if organized and executed effectively. Glean tips on convening from Cover Arizona, a coalition that has tripled its membership since May.   If you want help pulling together a meeting in your state, email StateAssistance@enrollamerica.org.

The processes are working. Despite initial issues with the website, people are able to successfully enroll in both Medicaid and in qualified health plans through HealthPlanFinder. A single portal is used for enrollment in Medicaid and QHPs (the same portal is used for consumers and assisters) and it is working well. But, as governor Jay Inslee recently wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post, it isn’t just about their website. The other components, mentioned above, are critical to bring everything together.

Sure, there are always things that can be done to improve the consumer experience in Washington. But these concrete examples from a SBM shed light on what effective processes look like and the results they can yield.

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