Traffic to the Washington Health Exchange website has been busy since it launched last week. Although there have been fewer technical problems, the system has been slow at times.
Going online is just one option. King County is holding a series of events this month so residents can get information they need.
At the enrollment fair at Seattle’s Garfield Community Center, the mood is festive. There are white, blue and green balloons at the entrance. Businesses have donated food for the event.
Patty Hayes oversees the outreach efforts for Seattle-King County Public Health. She says the party-like atmosphere is no accident. Before hosting this event, community leaders gave advice on what would help draw in people and make these events successful.
“You’ll see that with each of our community events,” says Hayes. “It’s going to have the flavor of the community.”
So for Seattle’s Central District, the key is having food. But for a light-hearted approach, the county has some serious work to do. The county estimates there are 180,000 uninsured residents who live in neighborhoods like this. Many of them are not aware of the new health care law taking effect. Adding to that is the impasse in Congress.
“Because there’s been so much information about the government shutdown and what’s going on back in Washington, D.C., it has confused people even more,” says Hayes.
At the fair, there are teams of in-person assistants. These helpers guide people through the enrollment process, or to answer questions. Many of them are bilingual. Health insurers have also set up booths for people who have questions about health plans.
Christina, who wouldn’t give her last name, is 61 years old. She came here to find out if she could afford any of the health plans sold at the health exchange. She has diabetes. She says it’s been hard to get insurance with a pre-existing condition.
“They wanted thousand dollars a month, and I say whoa, I can’t afford thousand dollars a month,” Christina says. “I was out of insurance for maybe four to five years.”
Christina filled out paperwork. In two weeks she hopes to learn whether she qualifies for some assistance.
After getting their fill of health insurance information, people headed to the food station to get some fried chicken and rolls. Bettina Blanchard is with Heaven Sent Fried Chicken. “We have given out 150 pieces of chicken and we still have 50-75 pieces left.”
Blanchard came to volunteer and to get some health insurance information. She says her boss is planning to get coverage for his employees and she’s thrilled. For 13 years, she’s been paying for doctor visits out of her own pocket. “I’ve been without insurance for a long, long time — years,” she says, “so this is very good for me. I need that.”
By day’s end, there are 36 applications completed. Many more visitors came to do some research and enroll later.
King County has three more information fairs scheduled throughout October. Open enrollment runs through March.