Signing Up For Insurance On Federal Marketplace Still A Waiting Game

The main groups working to help Alaskans sign up for marketplace insurance plans haven’t successfully enrolled anyone. One week after after the launch of the federally run health insurance marketplace, it’s still not operational.

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It’s 8 a.m. and Joshua Weinstein is doing something that has become a familiar routine over the last week. He’s trying to sign on to Alaska’s health insurance marketplace:

“So obviously start at and you can start an application or you can log in. I have made a consumer account. I got that far. This is looking optimistic…”

Weinstein is a benefits consultant at Enroll Alaska, the company that’s deploying insurance agents around the state to sign people up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He has attempted to log onto the marketplace at least a dozen times over the last week. In that time, he’s successfully created an account, but hasn’t gotten much farther. And on this morning, his optimism quickly fades as he lands on a screen that is mostly blank except for a small blue person icon near the top:

“I’ll click the person’s head and see what happens.”

That click doesn’t go anywhere. And Weinstein says that’s why he isn’t walking actual clients through the process just yet:

“So this is not a very confidence boosting experience and for me or any one of our agents to be sitting across from someone at a health care facility or a retail location doing this sort of clicking around, it would be nonsensical.”

In the meantime, Weinstein is helping clients choose an insurance plan and figure out what subsidies they may qualify for. But actually enrolling in a plan will have to wait until the federal website is functioning. Enroll Alaska says it has a backlog of 1200 Alaskans who are ready to sign up for insurance. Weinstein says he didn’t expect the first week to be perfectly smooth, but it has been discouraging:

“We have people who are on salary, we have expenses and we have no way to at this point help people get enrolled and make this a successful business model.”

Enroll Alaska intends to have two dozen insurance agents in communities across the state. But the company is waiting to deploy most of those agents until the website is working. Tyann Boling is COO of Enroll Alaska. She says the high initial demand for coverage in Alaska is encouraging. But she worries that if the marketplace isn’t working soon, that enthusiasm will drop off:

“And we really don’t want that to happen. We’re hoping that by the end of this week, we’re hoping that by tomorrow it’s going to be going, it’s all determined on when the federal government can get it functioning.”

The federal government doesn’t have an estimate for when that will be. Susan Johnson is regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She can’t say if anyone from Alaska has successfully enrolled. She says technical problems are affecting all of the federally run marketplaces, in 36 states:

“We’re making improvements every day but we’re not where we want it to be yet. We’re adding both hardware and software improvements and we know it’s frustrating, we’re working as hard as we can to get to where we all need it to be.”

Johnson says there is no hurry to sign up for insurance. She’s asking for patience. And at least one Alaskan who is eager to buy new insurance is okay with that. Alex Cruver is a 28 year old who has asthma. He already has health insurance, but he expects to save money on the marketplace. He has logged onto three times over the last week. He hasn’t even been able to create a user account, which has left him a bit perplexed, but not too concerned:

“I guess I thought it would be fixed by now.” Reporter: “So how frustrated are you?” Cruver: “Not that frustrated, I mean it’s kind of a bummer, but not very frustrated.”

Cruver says the website problems won’t deter him at all. He’s content to wait, as long as he’s eventually able to sign up for a plan that starts January 1st.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.