Groups in Alaska working to sign people up for health insurance on the federal marketplace say the website is working much better. The Obama Administration re-launched an improved healthcare.gov marketplace yesterday. Now insurance agents and navigators have three weeks to help Alaskans enroll in insurance plans that start offering coverage January 1st.
Tyann Boling probably knows HealthCare.gov better than any other Alaskan. And the COO of Enroll Alaska is not shy about grading the web site. In October, on a scale of 1 to 10, she gave it just a one. In November, a four. And now?
“I’m very pleased to announce that I would say on a scale of 1 to 10 it’s operating at about a seven. I would say our enrollment numbers are coming up dramatically.”
Boling says yesterday her insurance agents enrolled 14 people in the marketplace, a tally that was unimaginable a few weeks ago. She says the process usually takes around 45 minutes. But the web site needs work. Boling says her agents still encounter technical issues, especially with more complicated cases:
“You know I can’t pinpoint one situation that is the main problem, its just the complexity of people’s lives that can make it more challenging to get people enrolled.”
When problems do pop up, Boling says her agents are usually able to work through them instead of sending clients home, another big difference from the old website. Susan Johnson is the regional director of the federal Health and Human Services Department. She says she’s aware the site still needs attention:
“We’re working everyday with teams 24/7 to get to a 10.”
Johnson wants people who gave up on the site in the early months to give it a try again.
“It’s continuous progress. We didn’t get to December 1st and say, ‘we’re done.’ We’re going to get to December 23rd and continue to work through improving the site, all the way until March and beyond.”
December 23rd is the date people need to be enrolled to have coverage by January 1st. The open enrollment period extends through March 31st.
The Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center has three people working to sign up Alaskans for insurance. But the clinic says about 1/3 of the people they help earn too little to qualify for subsidies to help them buy insurance. Under the Affordable Care Act, they should be eligible for Medicaid, but Governor Sean Parnell declined to expand the program. Development Director Jon Zasada says that puts the center in a tough spot:
“The work that we do in providing primary care does not equal having access to quality insurance. For us and for, we think, other community health centers around the state, this does amount to an unfunded mandate.”
Alaskans who would have qualified for Medicaid under the expansion can apply for a hardship exemption, so they don’t have to pay a penalty for being uninsured. Overall, the main groups assisting Alaskans with healthcare.gov have enrolled 96 people since October 1st. They hope that number will increase substantially in the next few weeks.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, Kaiser Health News and NPR.