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Company suspends 'Obamacare' enrollment

Subsidy calculator is off, causes Alaskans to pay more

Posted: October 26, 2013 - 6:54pm  |  Updated: October 26, 2013 - 7:06pm

After three weeks of glitches resulting in only three people being enrolled through the state health care exchange, Enroll Alaska this week completely stopped trying to sign Alaskans up for health insurance.

Enrollment is suspended until a major issue is resolved, said Tyann Boling, the chief operating officer of Enroll Alaska. The issue is that the premium subsidy calculator for the Alaska exchange is underestimating the amount of the federal government’s portion of the total premium payment made to the insurance companies.

“Alaskans would be paying more than they should if they qualify for a subsidy,” she said.

The subsidy was coming in about $100 lower than it should have, said Boling. Her company figured out the discrepancy when comparing manual calculations with the generator and confirmed the problem Thursday night.

Most people who make less than $117,000 annually, 400 percent of the federal poverty level for Alaska, qualify for some level of subsidy.

While Enroll Alaska has stopped enrollments, the exchange site at healthcare.gov remains open and individuals can sign themselves up for coverage, which begins in January.

Questions regarding the faulty subsidy calculations sent Friday night to the online help chat at healthcare.gov, the same place individuals seeking help getting signed up go, drew a response saying, “Alaska is a federally run marketplace and everything is working just fine, both over the phone or web you can get your application completed.”

Friday Boling said she received an email from Susan Johnson, Region X director for the DHHS saying that the government was working to fix the Alaska subsidy calculator.

The Department of Health and Human Services expects to have the site fixed by the end of November.

Late Friday, the Seattle Times reported that the Washington state-built exchange subsidy calculator overestimated for those qualifying for tax credits.

Enroll Alaska is a private for profit company that works for individuals seeking help enrolling in healthcare plans required under the Affordable Care Act. They have representatives working with Central Peninsula residents interested in help signing up for health insurance through the exchange Monday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. inside Central Peninsula Hospital, hospital Chief Executive Officer Rick Davis said.

The Alaska state exchange was built by the federal government after Gov. Sean Parnell chose not to build the site, saying it would be too expensive.

Enroll Alaska agents will continue to at CPH to inform people and explain options and benefits but they will not enroll anyone until without exact knowledge that the subsidy is correct, Boling said.

“If the marketplace starts to function, if the calculator works, then we will enroll people,” Boling said.

With all the delays from federal website failures, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich joined nine others in asking HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to extend the first enrollment period past the March 31, 2014 deadline.

The senators asked Sebelius to consider extending that period but didn’t say for how long. They say individuals should not be penalized for lack of coverage if they can’t buy insurance due to technical problems.

They also offered praise for the health care law, saying it has the potential to improve quality of care and allow for millions of American to buy “quality, affordable” insurance.

Begich told The Associated Press he doesn’t believe there should be a delay of, say, a year. Rather, he said any extension it should match however long it takes for the website to be functioning at a level he would consider appropriate. He said if that’s a month, open enrollment should be extended a month.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

Reach Greg Skinner at greg.skinner@peninsulaclarion.com

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