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Healthcare.gov overloads, Alaska on hold

Local enrollers face glitches in first days of Affordable Care Act

Posted: October 2, 2013 - 9:46pm  |  Updated: October 2, 2013 - 9:52pm

The first day of enrollment in Alaska’s health care exchange led to a system freeze up, which in turn left brokers and navigators with little help to offer people and hoping that the web-based insurance marketplace will begin to work, eventually.

Tyann Boling, chief operating officer with Enroll Alaska, said the federally designed marketplace was not working as of Wednesday afternoon. She had no idea when it might be up and running. The word is that it’s overloaded, she said.

“We didn’t know what the marketplace was going to look like, we still don’t,” she said.

Enroll Alaska is a brokerage set up to help individuals and families looking to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, ACA.

Though the marketplace is not working, Enroll Alaska still plans on having agents working to enroll people out of Central Peninsula Hospital beginning Monday. The company will be working with clients in other outlying communities around the state such as Juneau, Wasilla, Sitka, Ketchikan, Kodiak and Fairbanks.

Enroll Alaska saw website traffic begin to spike Monday night, according to Boling.

Joshua Weinstein with Northrim Benefits Group, the parent company of Enroll Alaska, said that a few people got through enrollment before the system crashed Tuesday. He said industry rumors say the site could be down for weeks.

While the site is down, people can find out about rates and benefits along with estimated tax credits. Those have been known for a few weeks, Weinstein said.

People and families that make above 400 percent of the poverty level can begin to enroll through Premera Blue Cross and Moda directly. Those who earn less under the guidelines — a family of four with a household income of $117,000 or less — need to enroll through an exchange directly to qualify for the federal subsidies, Weinstein said.

The first enrollment period runs through March 31, with coverage beginning as soon as Jan. 1 for those who select plans by mid-December. Most people will be required to have insurance in 2014.

Susan Johnson, a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on Tuesday urged reporters not to “diminish this moment” by focusing on glitches with the site.

“Instead, let us report that millions of people, almost 140,000 Alaskans who are uninsured for the first time have help, have a welcome sign for them to come through and receive that peace of mind for insurance,” she told a news conference in Anchorage. “Let us report that. That is the day that today dawns across the country for millions of people.”

Johnson said about 60 percent of uninsured Alaskans under the age of 60 are likely eligible for tax credits to help cover costs of monthly premiums.

“That’s the story,” she said. “Not how long a wait it is, not how cumbersome a site may be for some. But the promise of the peace of mind that health insurance brings.”

In essence, when the site is working, there are four basic steps that individuals or brokers will take: create an account, apply for coverage, pick a plan and then enroll.

At the moment insurance agents can’t get past the “create an account” phase, Boling said.

Even if the site is not up by Monday, there is an advantage to beginning the process when you can. There is paperwork, such as employer and income information, and policy numbers for your current insurance, which need to be gathered, she said.

In the time between Tuesday’s launch and Monday’s rollout, Boling said her agents will become more acquainted with the ins and outs from going over scenarios on plans and policy design with others during the first week.

“We knew that there would be glitches. It’s a federal program delivering web-based insurance packages from millions across the country,” Boling said.

Associated Press material was used in this report.

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com.

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