Health insurance feels more important than ever, and Public Health Navigators can help

King County’s health insurance Navigators are once again offering personal help with the enrollment process through Washington Healthplanfinder — with special adaptations to protect against COVID-19.

The Access & Outreach team at Public Health—Seattle & King County has designed an innovative new set of options for the Open Enrollment period that starts on Nov. 1, 2020.  These new strategies protect both the Navigators and King County residents.

  • Virtual (online) enrollment events will be available via Zoom, Facebook-Live and other platforms. Skilled Navigators will walk you through the enrollment website, how to understand the options, and the important vocabulary to learn. They will also take questions from the audience to help provide the details that the public wants to know.
  • A small number of in-person enrollment events will feature Navigators behind plexiglass screens, wearing masks, and spaced at a generous distance from each other. We’re limiting these events to large venues, with large areas for people to wait without being physically close to anyone else.
  • Drive-through enrollment events, using parking garages that are temporarily not being used for parking.
  • Video-kiosks at four Public Health Center locations and a storefront in Federal Way will provide help for people who don’t have great computer or internet access, or who want personal help without risking getting close. The video screens connect directly with one of our health insurance Navigators. 
  • The existing telephone hotline (800-756-5437) will be more important than ever before. Navigators answer the phone and can walk you through the website verbally.  
The Federal Way Enrollment Storefront has been modified to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including by adding plexiglass screens.

In addition, a full remodel has dramatically improved the safety at the Federal Way Enrollment Storefront office (at 1640 South 318th Place, Federal Way) and the ORCA LIFT Office (201 South Jackson St., Seattle). At both locations, masks and temperature checks are required, furniture has been removed and plexiglass barriers separate Navigators from clients, waiting areas no longer allow congregating, and social distancing protocols will be followed.

New plans and a new urgency

Health insurance suddenly evaporated for thousands of Washington residents this year, with employment reductions due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The uninsured rate went up from about 5.5% before the pandemic to about 13% last spring in King County.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, getting and keeping health insurance is more important than ever.

And the fate of the Affordable Care Act is once again before the U.S. Supreme Court, creating uncertainty about the future options for health insurance. The Affordable Care Act supports and enables the plans offered through Washington Healthplanfinder. The Court is hearing arguments about the law’s constitutionality on Nov. 10, with a decision expected by June 2021.

Fortunately, for now, Washington still has robust options through Washington Healthplanfinder, including Apple Health (Medicaid) options. Many people have already signed up for these options and the estimated uninsured rate dropped back to about 6.9% in September – which is still higher than before the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has shown how essential it is that we continue the push toward one-hundred percent health insurance coverage. No one should be left without full access to health care. Our enrollment teams are making sure we cover as many eligible people as possible, in the programs we have today,” said Patty Hayes, director of Public Health—Seattle & King County.

A new option this year – called Cascade Care – is helping make plans less expensive and easier to understand and use.

Cascade Care is a new set of “standard plans” for Washington state, designed to offer access to more health care services before a family reaches their deductible. All insurance carriers must offer a Cascade Care option, at bronze, silver and gold levels. Consumers compare by price and network.

There will be more than 70 insurance plans available in King County, including eight Cascade Care plans, offered by: Coordinated Care, Molina Marketplace, Kaiser Permanente, Premera, Lifewise, BridgeSpan, Regence, and United Health Care.

The Cascade Care Public Option is designed for people who are not eligible for tax credits (because their income is above 400% of the official federal poverty level). These plans offer lower monthly premiums (but with higher co-pays), and they cap provider rate reimbursements at 160% of Medicare rates. Typically, the plans may offer smaller provider networks in exchange for lower premiums. Three public option plans are available in King County, from BridgeSpan, Coordinated Care and LifeWise. 

How to get help with health insurance in King County:

  • Online: Coverage is Here King County website: Answers to basic questions, plus locations and dates for in-person assistance
  • Online: Washington Healthplanfinder website and app: It’s easy to browse specific options, compare pricing, and see whether a key provider or prescription is covered
  • Phone: King County hotline for health access and insurance questions: 800-756-5437
  • Phone: Washington Healthplanfinder: 855-923-4633
  • Email:
  • Enrollment Centers: These sites are open several days each week to help people enroll.
    • Public Health-Seattle Metro Service Center, 201 S. Jackson, Seattle 98104 (November hours: Mon./Wed./Thurs. 10:00-4:00)
    • Public Health-Federal Way Enrollment Center, 1640 S. 318th P, Suite B, Federal Way 98003 (November hours: Mon./Tues./Thurs. 10:00-6:00; Wed. 11:00-8:00; Sat. 10:00-3:00)

Originally published 10/28/2020

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.