Murkowski Questions Head Of Healthcare.gov

The Obama Administration claims it has fixed some of the problems with the new online federal health insurance marketplace, but so far Alaskans remain mostly shut out.

Senator Lisa Murkowski had a chance to grill the top official in charge of the website at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, and she used it to air some of her frustrations.

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Murkowski told Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner that she’s met with Enroll Alaska Insurance agents who are trying to help Alaskans buy insurance on the exchange.

As of last week, they had signed only 3 people up for coverage.

Now they suspect the website miscalculated their subsidy. Tavenner had few real answers for Murkowski.

Murkowski:

  • “Not only can people not get on to enroll, but if they do, their subsidy calculations are incorrect.”
  • “So we are aware of this issue and they are working on a fix to the system to correct the Alaska issue. It’s specific to Alaska.”
  • “In the meantime what should Alaskans do? Should they stay off, as Enroll Alaska and the other navigators have suggested?”

Tavenner said Alaskans should keep trying. Murkowski also criticized Tavenner for taking the site offline from 1 to 5a.m. daily. That’s the middle of the night on the East Coast, but it means the website goes dark at 9pm in Alaska – prime time, says Murkowski, for busy parents who’ve just put kids to bed.

Tavenner said Alaskans can call the help line, or submit paper applications .

Meanwhile, more than half of the Alaskans who buy individual policies from Premera are getting cancellation notices. At the hearing, Murkowski said many have told her they worry they’ll have a gap in coverage if they can’t enroll on the federal exchange in time, and that they might get sick during that gap.

“They want to know, ‘if I fall through the cracks, will I be taken care of,’ and I don’t have an answer for them,” Murkowski said.

Outside the hearing, Murkowski said she believes the key to getting truly affordable health care plans is to work on legislation that will lower the cost of the health care itself.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska’s congressional delegation, federal agency decisions that shape life in the 49th state, money in politics and elections. She has deep roots in Alaska and this is her third stint in Washington, a city she has grown to love.

She was born in Anchorage and is a West High graduate. She studied political science at the University of Washington and has an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri in Columbia. During graduate school, she moved to Washington to intern as a D.C. correspondent. But for her first real journalism job, she moved back to Alaska to work at the Homer News. She was there for three years before taking a job at the Anchorage Daily News. Over the course of nine years in Anchorage, she covered City Hall, courts, state politics, and Native and rural affairs.

Then, in April 2001, she moved back to Washington to work in McClatchy Newspaper’s D.C. bureau as a correspondent for the Anchorage paper. She stayed in the position for five years.

She took a year off for a journalism fellowship at the University of Colorado in Boulder, then freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio.

When a vacancy occurred in APRN’s one-person Washington bureau, she jumped at the opportunity. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013.

lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz