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Dollars for Dimes

People aren't opening their wallets for Real Change; plus, new enrollment period for Obamacare

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Rare Change

A 2-month-old REAL CHANGE campaign to redirect panhandling donations to established Spokane charities has seen few contributions to its fundraising account, but organizers say the awareness effort has increased community dialogue on the issue and helped promote long-term programs.

Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richard says the effort has brought important attention to the need for sustainable solutions to homelessness, driving support for House of Charities, Union Gospel Mission and the YMCA.

"Our focus from Day 1 was really on awareness," he says, acknowledging direct contributions had been lower than hoped. "We're committed to this as the right approach."

The Real Change campaign, a $25,000 joint effort between DSP and the City of Spokane, has raised just $212 through its direct online Crowdswell fundraiser, with $100 of that from Richard and another $100 from the DSP's vice president.

Richard notes charity organizers have mentioned increased interest and support since the launch of the campaign. City spokesman Brian Coddington agreed via email that the campaign was not focused on raising money, but on "giving people alternatives that include directing resources to services that can make a difference." (JACOB JONES)

Round Two

The second OPEN ENROLLMENT period for buying health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act starts nationwide on Nov. 15 and runs through Feb. 15, 2015. Washington exchange officials say users can expect to find a few changes to the state's online insurance marketplace on opening day.

Customers will have more options, for one: Twice as many private insurance plans will be available on Washington Heathplanfinder (wahealthplanfinder.org). The penalty for opting out of insurance coverage next year is also steeper — $325 per adult or 2 percent of your income, whichever is greater.

Last year, technical glitches forced exchange officials to take down the website shortly after its launch on Oct. 1. Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, tells the Inlander that users should have a smoother experience this time around. Five hundred people will be ready to answer questions at the exchange's Spokane Valley-based call center. Last year, the center was initially short-staffed with only 140 phone operators.

Customers who purchased insurance on the state marketplace last year will receive letters in mid-October informing them of the automatic renewal process and any changes to their eligibility for 2015 coverage. In Washington, 1.28 million people enrolled in insurance through the exchange. According to a recent Gallup poll, the uninsured rate in Washington dropped from 16.8 percent in 2013 to 10.7 percent in 2014, the fourth highest reduction in the country. (DEANNA PAN)

The Break-Up Plan

When it comes to MEDICAL EDUCATION, the University of Washington and Washington State University have essentially announced an amicable divorce.

Last month, due to concerns about the lack of medical students in rural areas and conflicts with UW, WSU voted to officially pursue the creation of its own medical school. UW, worried a new med school would suck away resources from its own program in Spokane, actively opposed the plan.

On Friday, the two universities announced that they'd come to a compromise of sorts. The agreement means WSU can freely pursue their medical school, but will be dissolving their medical school partnership with UW. Both schools will seek to expand medical education in Spokane. "The bottom line is we're prepared to stay and move forward in Spokane," says Margaret Shepherd, UW's director of state relations.

Complicated details about allocation of state resources and the separation process still have to be worked out, but those negotiations will take place before the legislature kicks off in January. Both WSU and UW have promised not to lobby against the other's goals. (DANIEL WALTERS)

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