Unlike HealthCare.gov, Washington state's health insurance exchange appears to be working well

(CBS News) SEATTLE - Seventeen states and the District of Columbia are running their own health insurance exchanges, and many of those appear to be working well, including the one in Washington state.

"I think the important thing about Washington state is that we have demonstrated the fundamental integrity and benefits of health care reform," said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
CBS News

Inslee is feeling confident. In the month since his state opened its health care exchange, 49,000 people have enrolled. Another 92,000 have started an application.

The bar for success is fairly low, but Washington state is getting kudos.

"It's easier to do this on a state basis than it is having the whole federal system in one technical system," Inslee said. "We make sure that we get into schools and gymnasiums and beauty parlors, where people are, and let them know what the options are. When people find out these options, 'Hey, it's a good deal.'"

Unlike the federal site, Washington state allows people to browse for plans without creating an account. The idea was to make it as simple as shopping on Amazon.com and not overwhelm the system with personal data.

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"I equate it to launching an industry, not just launching a product," said Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

He says bipartisan political support in the state gave them two years to build their system and educate the public. But there have still been problems.

Richard Onizuka
Richard Onizuka
CBS News

On the first day, the site was so slow the state took it offline to make adjustments to speed it up. There are still some technical glitches.

"We're finding things all the time that need to be tweaked," Onizuka said.

On Wednesday, Washington state had to take its site down because the federal government system that verifies identities and income was not working. People had to fill out forms by hand.

Asked whether the state's site would be running perfectly if the federal site was working fine, Onizuka said it would be running "pretty well."

We're able to get enrollments though," he said. "We have places where people might get stuck."

There are more than one million uninsured people in Washington, and the goal is to insure 320,000 by Jan. 1. So far, more than 80 percent of the people enrolling are enrolling in Medicaid, meaning they're not paying into the system.

  • Ben Tracy

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