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1410_World-Cafe

Groups Work To Educate Alaskans On Health Insurance Marketplace

By | September 30, 2013

On October 1st, the federal government will launch its health insurance marketplace in Alaska. Several groups in the state are starting to get the word out about how residents can sign up for health plans under the law.

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If you lived in Oregon, hipster musicians would be trying to convince you to sign up for health insurance. In Washington, the state would be angling for your attention with a more traditional advertising approach. In Alaska though, Governor Sean Parnell is a big critic of the health reform law and the state isn’t doing anything to advertise the federally run health insurance exchange.  But other organizations are eager to help fill the gap.

“People are going to have questions about federal health care reform, we’re there to provide answers via website or phone.”

Eric Earling is a spokesperson for Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska. Premera is one of two companies that will offer health insurance plans in the marketplace. The company recently launched an advertising campaign with a TV spot.

Premera also sells health insurance in Oregon and Washington. Those states are running their own marketplaces. Earling says because of that, they are far ahead of Alaska in getting the word out about what a health insurance marketplace is and how it works. So he says Premera’s ads in Alaska had to focus more on the basics:

“We simply want to make sure there is a straightforward approach to raise awareness levels of information about federal health care reform and where people, most importantly, can go to get answers.”

Earling is, of course, hoping Alaskans go to Premera for answers and then buy insurance from the company. Another ad campaign on the marketplace launch isn’t steering residents toward a specific insurer. It’s from Enroll Alaska, a division of Northrim Benefits Group, that sees a business opportunity in helping people sign up for insurance under the new law.

Tyann Boling is heading up Enroll Alaska. She says the group is hiring 35 insurance agents who will be based in Walmarts, Sam’s Clubs and hospitals in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, Kodiak and Soldotna. Boling says the ad campaign includes print, web, radio and tv:

“There was not anybody else out there that was going launch a major marketing outreach and education campaign for individuals to get the information about the benefit that many of them will receive due to the Affordable Care Act.”

Enroll Alaska’s insurance agents will earn a commission when they sign consumers up for a health plan, but it won’t cost consumers any more to buy insurance through an agent. A much smaller number of so-called navigators will be doing similar work. The federal government gave the United Way of Anchorage $300,000 to hire four navigators who will be based in Anchorage, Juneau and Fairbanks. Joan Fisher is the lead navigator. She’ll be working out of Providence hospital in Anchorage:

“We listen to their story, find out where they are, then we will go online and we can assist them on making a comparison between the marketplace plans.”

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has its own navigator and outreach program. You can also navigate the new insurance options on your own at healthcare.gov starting October 1st. A report released recently shows Alaskans will be paying some of the highest insurance premiums in the country in the marketplaces. But that was also true long before health reform became law.

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