Uninsured rate doubles in Renton as enrollment period tightens

Entering the shortest enrollment period for insurance since the Affordable Care Act debuted in 2013, Renton has large numbers of adults uninsured compared to the rest of King County.

Beginning this week, Public Health King County will be putting it’s focus on Renton with events throughout the next six weeks, as the enrollment period ends Dec. 15.

“We’re going to be doing some really intense work in the city of Renton to try to get each one,” said Daphne Pie, lead for county enrollment activities, of the approximately 8,500 uninsured adults in Renton.

At least 5,000 of these uninsured adults are eligible for Apple health or qualified health plan in Renton.

Last week, King County Executive Dow Constantine spoke in Maple Valley to kick off Public Health’s outreach to the region.

“As a county government, we’re putting our resources into letting people know this is the signup period, letting people know it’s shorter than ever, and you can’t procrastinate. You only have six weeks, and we will do what we can to make it easier for yourself and for your family,” Constantine said.

There will be 272 navigators available throughout the county who can meet with residents to answer questions and navigate the Smart Plan Finder. There are about 25 navigators in Renton, Pie said, with locals from Renton Public Health and University of Washington Valley Medical. Navigators are also completely mobile and can travel to meet with folks, for example, at a Starbucks, she said.

Although money has been cut for the navigators federally, the state funding maintains levels in King County, according to public health insider. Pie said they receive money from the exchange for the King County network, but that no additional funds were given for this year’s outreach and most money goes to the 33 partner agencies.

Constantine said health insurance reform has saved lives in King County and given children a chance to start happy, health lives. In King County more than 92 percent of working age adults, and 98 percent of children are insured. He said the Trump administration was trying to sabotage the insurance market to monkey wrench the system by shortening the enrollment period.

“Now for most enrollees, cost have stayed the same or even dropped. And there are more than 20 plans to choose from. We cannot go back to the bad old days when people couldn’t afford insurance and ended up in the emergency room and in bankruptcy,” Constantine said. “Don’t believe the hype, the insurance is there, and it’s available. It’s affordable and you should have it.”

Constantine said there is an urgency with this short window of six weeks to get the word out so folks know to enroll now.

Pie said the process can be as short as 20 minutes and all someone needs is their birthdate and full social security number, as well as any spouse or dependents’ birthdate and social.

According to county data, Renton had 24 percent of adults uninsured in 2013, and since then, the number dropped to as low as 6 percent in 2016. But in 2017, it suddenly doubled to 12 percent.

“We got some data just from last month that said the uninsured rate in Renton went from 6 percent overall to 12 percent, and that has not happened in every other city in King County,” Keith Seinfeld from Public Health King County said. “So it’s like, wait a second, what’s going on in Renton?”

Although they can only speculate now why the increase happened, Pie and Seinfeld said anecdotes from those who come enroll, and future data, might be able to point to what caused the uninsured rates to double.

Pie has already began “blitzing” the Renton area with different flyers and materials for central service providers and businesses in Renton. They will have a storefront available Dec. 1 at the Landing from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., along with at least five other events in Renton. She said there will also be more events announced for Fairwood Starbucks and with Renton Housing Authority.

There’s also an enrollment center in Federal Way that will be open Monday through Thursday and Saturdays during the next six weeks. More information on the more than 50 enrollment events that will take place throughout King County can be found at here. https://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/health/locations/health-insurance/coverage/enrollment-assistance/calendar.aspx.

Pie said there has been a lot of misinformation with insurance. One big thing is enrollees worried they won’t be covered due to pre-existing conditions. Per Washington state law enrollees can’t be excluded for prior health conditions.

Pie also said young people who are aging out of their parent’s plans need to consider enrolling, there are plans that could charge $50 a month and still get preventative care and screenings, including physicals, flu shots and mammograms. And Smart Plan Finder helps enrollees navigate to a suitable insurance plan.

Enrollment periods were always intended to drop to six weeks eventually with the Affordable Care Act, Pie said, but this is the first year there wasn’t an extension. Last year the enrollment period was from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15.

Those who are eligible for Medicaid, Washington Apple health, can enroll year-round and are not restricted to the six-week period, Seinfeld said. The enrollment period is for the Washington Health Benefit Public Exchange.

Are you uninsured in Renton? The Renton Reporter would like to know your story. Contact the writer at hausbun@rentonreporter.com or 253-678-3148.

Uninsured Renton residents in 2017 who were eligible for Apple Health (Medicaid) or a qualified health plan. Data from Public Health- King County and Seattle.

Uninsured Renton residents in 2017 who were eligible for Apple Health (Medicaid) or a qualified health plan. Data from Public Health- King County and Seattle.

Photo by Haley Ausbun.
                                King County Executive Dow Constantine speaks about Affordable Care Act outreach for King County. The shortest enrollment period, six weeks, began Nov. 1.

Photo by Haley Ausbun. King County Executive Dow Constantine speaks about Affordable Care Act outreach for King County. The shortest enrollment period, six weeks, began Nov. 1.

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