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Already paid? Healthplanfinder can't decide

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Mike Malmin, pastor at the Wenatchee Church of the Nazarene, signed up for health insurance through the state’s Healthplanfinder, and promptly pays his bill every month.And every month, Malmin receives a notice threatening cancellation because he’s overdue.So he does what any bill-paying American would do. He calls the powers that be at the Washington Health Benefit Exchange to report the error. And each time, he gets told there’s a glitch in the system, and they’re fixing it. Not to worry, you’re still insured, and you don’t owe any money.When he received yet another notice this month, saying that he now owes $2,400 in premium payments for the last four months, Malmin decided he wanted a little assurance that his insurance wouldn’t be cancelled. After all, the statement shows he’s now more than 90 days past due.Again, he called the Exchange, but could get no such guarantee.He asked them if he’s getting the notices that apparently can’t be stopped, what’s to prevent the computer from sending his insurance company a notice that he’s three months past due, resulting in automatic cancellation?“She said, ‘Well, you will get a formal notice of termination before that, so you will have time to do something about it,’” he recalled. No, she could not guarantee he would not get a termination notice.So Malmin decided to make a few more calls. To the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, and the Governor’s Office, and his state representative, Cary Condotta, an East Wenatchee Republican.Malmin isn’t the only one having trouble with the new system.In early May, the Washington Health Benefit Exchange issued a news release identifying “several system defects and data issues” in the Healthplanfinder invoices. The release says the issues affect less than 5 percent of customers, and may result in invoices not being generated, incorrect payment adjustments or inaccurate statements. “These issues may also result in customer notices from Washington Healthplanfinder requesting payment or insurance companies being unaware of completed payments,” it says. It also said no customers have had their coverage cancelled.By early May, the Exchange had processed more than $60 million in customer payments, so they’re not just dealing with a few invoices here.The Exchange’s spokeswoman Bethany Frey said it’s taking some time to work out kinks in the system. “They’re still trying to work the cases in order as quickly as they can,” she said.Malmin said the problem of getting overdue notices is relatively small. He hasn’t lost any sleep over it, although he is a little concerned about getting a cancellation notice, or what it could do to his credit rating. But, he added, “I’m pretty patient and I know it’s a new system.”Malmin also said he supports the idea of trying to extend insurance to as many a possible. And so far, he’s pretty happy with the insurance.But he’s hoping that this effort to get a relatively small problem taken care of isn’t a taste of what it’s going to be like dealing with a government bureaucracy.“If I was out in the private market, I’d just change companies,” Malmin said. “But this is through the state, so I can’t just change. My company is paid by the state.”Or, at least, he’s hoping it is.