Enrolling in the new federal marketplace is off to slow start in the capital city. Ongoing technical issues with the insurance website have made it difficult, but those charged with helping Juneau residents enroll expect interest will pick up.
Tyann Boling, Enroll Alaska’s chief operating officer, says, “I’ve stopped enrollments.”
But that hasn’t stopped Alaskans from trying – four have been successful on the federal marketplace.
“We have well over 1,700 individuals that we will be working with to get enrolled once the marketplace is up and going,” Boling says.
Of the 1,700, more than 75 are from Juneau.
The Affordable Care Act allows each state the opportunity to build its own marketplace. Governor Sean Parnell opted not to do this, so Alaskans are dealing with the same difficulties as others dependent on the federal website.
Enroll Alaska currently has one agent in Juneau. Boling hopes to eventually add two more.
“We will have more join that team there; however, we are not deploying agents to our locations because the marketplace is not functioning. We don’t want to discourage the consumers. We’re definitely in a holding pattern,” she explains.
When the Marketplace is functioning properly, Boling says Enroll Alaska agents will be placed at Bartlett Regional Hospital and Wal-Mart.
“We’re ready,” says Boling. “Our spaces are ready and we’d love to be there today, but we don’t want it to be a service that we’re not able to provide.”
United Way navigator Crystal Bourland has been stationed at the National Alliance on Mental Illness office in Juneau since earlier this month. Bourland has been educating people on the marketplace, eligibility for subsidies, and the difference between insurance plans. Each week, she’s getting more and more calls.
“The interest is growing especially as people are finding their way to me. Even today, I’ve set up several appointments for the coming week,” Bourland says.
Bourland has not enrolled anyone from Juneau in a healthcare plan yet, but she’s not discouraged.
“There may be some frustration out there, but I’m finding in the interactions that I’ve had that people are really in the information-gathering stage and they just have a lot of questions about the marketplace and what options are available to them,” says Bourland.
Alaska has 140,000 uninsured residents – more than 5,000 are in Juneau – and Bourland’s main job right now is reaching out to those people.
“We’re still getting started so just continuing to create awareness and outreach opportunities to see what that need is,” she says. “There are thousands of people in Juneau and thousands of people in Alaska that are uninsured so knowing that there are new healthcare options out there, I think the interest is strong.”
Bourland says the majority of calls she gets are from people looking for individual plans, a few have asked about plans for dependents, but there’s been no interest in Juneau from small businesses, businesses with fifty or less full-time employees.
Bourland hopes this will change.