About 16,000 Alaskans Sign Up On Healthcare.gov

The federal government says about 16,000 Alaskans have signed up for health insurance on healthcare.gov. That’s about 3,000 more than signed up during the initial open enrollment period.

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More than half of the new enrollments are likely customers renewing plans. But Susan Johnson, the regional director of the Health and Human Services Department calls the number “huge.”

“we’ve almost doubled the numbers from last month until now so it seems very strong to me,” Johnson said. “It’s not a best kept secret, I think the on the ground navigators and assistors are out and about doing work and people are showing up and wanting to get covered.”

Enroll Alaska is also pleased with the number of enrollees. Since the open enrollment period began November 15th, the company has signed up 1300 Alaskans for health insurance. Operations manager Aimee Crocker says about 75% of those enrollments are renewals. Crocker says the numbers would likely be higher they weren’t experiencing some glitches with how the federal government and the insurance carriers are processing enrollments. For example, she says a batch of enrollments from November didn’t make it to the insurers until December 31st.

“Right now we’re spending a lot of time administratively trying to make sure the clients we have assisted have their plans in place,” Crocker said. “We don’t want to take on too much and not be able to help the people we promised those services to.”

Both Crocker and Susan Johnson expect the pace of enrollments to pick up as the deadline of February 15th approaches. After that, you can only sign up for health insurance if you have a big life change like a new job.

The federal government says more than 90% of Alaskans who have signed up for insurance on the exchange qualify for a subsidy. But Crocker says even customers whose coverage is subsidized have been affected by the large price increases for this year.

“There has definitely been quite a bit of sticker shock and not understanding why the rates have increased so much,” Crocker said. “And it’s frustrating for people, people just want to have access to something they can afford.”

Crocker says some customers have opted to pay the tax penalty instead, which for the 2014 tax year will be $95 or 1% of yearly income, whichever is higher.

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie