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 issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz

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