- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - Between renewals and new customers, 101,000 Washington residents have bought health insurance through the Washington exchange so far this open enrollment period.

About 76,000 renewed their policies by the Tuesday deadline for Jan. 1 coverage. About 25,000 are new to the exchange and will have insurance on Jan. 1.

Last year, during the first open enrollment period since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, nearly 65,000 Washington residents had bought private insurance through the exchange in time for Jan. 1 coverage.

Exchange spokesman Michael Marchand says this year’s numbers will be very preliminary for at least a few more weeks.

Many of the 54,000 who currently have insurance through the exchange but haven’t renewed for next year have two possible ways to keep that insurance on Jan. 1.

For a while, they will be treated like people who are just late on their payments. If they pay up during the grace period and renew at that time, they will not have a gap in coverage.

“I was kind of blown away with how many people entered grace periods at some time last year,” Marchand said.

More than 80,000 people were late on their payments at least once during the past year and most of them paid within 23 days. Marchand believes past experience indicates many of the 54,000 who have not renewed for next year will do so at the same time they catch up on their payments in January.

“It could be a sizeable number,” he said.

Some may also want to apply for an extension because they were having technical problems. This possibility works for new customers as well.

To qualify for the extension, people should fill out an online request form. People who need extra help or do not have internet access, may call the customer support center. Exchange officials say customers making an extension request will receive a reply through email or regular mail.

Marchand expects thousands of people will file for an extension. How many qualify will depend on their own personal situation, he said. He could not say if people would be granted an extension if they were just confused or believed they were having a technical problem but really weren’t.

“We have to review them all,” Marchand said. “If it was an issue of an individual not understanding something, it may just depend.”

It’s not too late to begin the sign-up process for insurance. Depending on when they sign up - even if they start filling out their form on Feb. 14 - people will be eligible for insurance on Feb. 1 or March 1.

The exchange has a goal of 85,000 new insurance policies sold through the exchange by the end of open enrollment on Feb. 15, 2015. Their second goal: Sell renewals for all 130,000 insurance policies sold during the first open enrollment.

One of the issues with open enrollment this year and last was the way it overlapped with the holiday season. Marchand hopes next year’s open enrollment will end before Christmas, so people won’t have to juggle their time or their dollars to get insurance.

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Online:

Washington Healthplanfinder: https://petition.wahealthplanfinder.org/

Customer Support: 1-855-923-4633

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