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Last minute push to enroll people in health insurance plans before March 31 deadline

With the March 31 deadline approaching for people to sign up for private health insurance plans through Washington Healthplanfinder, officials are making a last-minute push to encourage people to sign up for coverage.

The deadline does not apply to Medicaid, which accepts applicants year-round.

Figures released Tuesday by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange show 12,000 people signed up in the past week, an increase of four times the weekly average. A total of 895,000 people have completed enrollments through the exchange, including those who were previously covered or eligible through Medicaid.

About 250,000 newly eligible adults have signed up for Medicaid, while 125,000 people have enrolled in private commercial health insurance plans, known as Qualified Health Plans.

“Medicaid numbers are great,” said Richard Onizuka, CEO of the exchange, in an interview with TVW Wednesday. “The private health insurance – the qualified health plans – are really robust. We didn’t know what to expect, but to have 125,000 as of Monday is a pretty good number for us.”

Critics say that the Medicaid expansion will be a burden on state and federal taxpayers. Roger Stark of the Washington Policy Center said Wednesday that’s the “thing that gets lost in all of this discussion.”

“If we look at the numbers, only 14 percent of the people who have signed up and paid for premiums are actually in the private market,” Stark said. “That means 86 percent have signed up for the Medicaid program, an entitlement program completely funded by taxpayers.”

For more details about the last-minute push and who is signing up, as well as interviews with Onizuka and Stark, watch “The Impact” on Wednesday, March 26 at 7 & 10 p.m.

People seeking private health insurance must enroll and pay before 11:59 p.m. on March 31 for coverage that starts on May 1, 2014. To sign up, go to or attend an enrollment event.