The Washington Health Benefit Exchange and Healthplanfinder, the state’s marketplace and website where people can buy individual and subsidized health insurance under health reform, have gone through some big changes lately.
Most important to consumers, Healthplanfinder is no longer the portal through which customers pay their insurance premiums.
On Tuesday, the organization announced that starting Sept. 24, Qualified Health Plan and Qualified Dental Plan customers will be required to pay their monthly premiums directly to their insurance companies, and the site will no longer accept those payments after Sept. 23.
The change mirrors a stop-gap measure put in place last year after problems plagued the site’s payment mechanism.
Late last August, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler established a short-term special enrollment period to accommodate people who had tried to buy coverage plans through the exchange but were thwarted by billing issues stemming from poor communication between the website and the private insurance companies offering those plans.
At the time, more than 5,000 customers statewide had reported problems getting their insurance payments through the system, which resulted in confusion and frustration when they tried to access medical care.
Under the new policy at Healthplanfinder, consumers will still be able to take advantage of any tax credits and subsidies they are eligible for through the exchange.
The change does not affect small businesses that have purchased plans through the exchange; employers will continue to make payments through the website.
“Given that the majority of our system issues or customer complaints have been related to invoicing and the process of transferring payments to carriers, this should go a long way to improving the customer experience,” Richard Onizuka, outgoing CEO of the Health Benefit Exchange, said in a news release.
“I supported the practice of paying premium through the Exchange because it encouraged people to visit the Exchange and shop for coverage, but the payment process didn’t work well for many people,” said Kreidler in a statement to the Yakima Herald-Republic. “I’m hopeful that by removing the money-collection role, Wahealthplanfinder can focus its attention on increasing enrollment and continue its successful efforts to lower the rate of uninsured in our state.”
Onizuka’s departure is another major shift. He was the exchange’s first and only CEO, overseeing the development and opening of the marketplace when the Affordable Care Act went into effect in October 2013, but announced early this month that his last day will be Aug. 28.
The exchange announced Wednesday that Pam MacEwan, chief of staff and Onizuka’s longtime deputy, will fill the role of interim CEO after Onizuka leaves, effective Aug. 31.
The exchange’s chief financial officer, Bob Nakahara, is also stepping down at the end of this month. He’s been with the exchange since 2012, too, and will be leaving Aug. 26.