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'Obamacare' AK subsidy calculator fixed

Health care enrollment restarts as shortfall ends

Posted: November 13, 2013 - 10:22pm  |  Updated: November 13, 2013 - 10:30pm

Ending a few-week delay in the enrollment process, Enroll Alaska restarted its efforts to connect Alaskans to health insurance through the federally run insurance exchange healthcare.gov.

Tyann Boling, the chief operating officer of Enroll Alaska, said enrollment resumed Monday afternoon following confirmation that the Department of Health and Human Services had fixed the subsidy calculator for the Alaska portion of healthcare.gov.

The test came with the company’s enrollment of their fourth client since the program opened on Oct. 1. Originally, Enroll Alaska had expected to sign up 20,000 people by this time.

It is unclear if anyone living on the central Kenai Peninsula has yet signed up through healthcare.gov.

The 2010 Affordable Care Act requires, among many things, that all citizens and legal residents not covered by employer-sponsored health insurance programs buy health insurance by March 31, 2014 or face fines. Under the individual mandate, households making less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, about $117,000 for a family of four in Alaska, will receive some level of federal subsidy.

Federal subsidies can be paid directly to the insurance company on a monthly basis or given in the form of a yearly tax credit to individual being insured.

Before the fixing the problem, healthcare.gov based its subsidy calculation on the cheapest silver plan available in Alaska. The calculation was actually to be based on the second cheapest silver plan available.

Insurance plans are rated from bronze at the low end of cost and coverage to gold at the high end. Also included is a catastrophic category.

Though individuals and families can enroll themselves through healthcare.gov, Enroll Alaska has agents working to sign people up in the Central Peninsula at Walmart and at Central Peninsula Hospital. There is no cost to assist individuals. Enroll Alaska earns a fee from the two insurance companies providing Alaska coverage through the federally run insurance marketplace exchange.

Boling said that the enrollment process now seems to take about 20 minutes, based on Monday’s results.

Enroll Alaska discovered the subsidy issue, which was shorting individuals in favor of the federal government, in early October by doing manual calculations. But, HHS was only able to confirm the mistakes near the end of the month.

“We determined that it was $100 less than it should have been,” Boling said.

Specifically, two insurance plans occupied the lowest priced category and one was bumped up into the second cheapest category incorrectly rather than the actual cheapest, HSS Region Ten Director Susan Johnson said.

Johnson estimated that a “couple of dozen” people were affected by the miscalculation. She is unsure if those individuals will have to reapply through healthcare.gov or get the option of an “expedited appeal.”

“We’re very pleased that it’s been fixed,” she said. “Alaska is our highest priority in Region Ten.”

Region Ten covers Alaska, Idaho, Washington state and Oregon.

Due to glitches in the website that affected enrollment across the nation, Enroll Alaska had previously signed up three people and those clients are being worked with to ensure there subsidies are now accurate, Boling said.

Statewide, as of Tuesday, only about 50 people had completed applications through healthcare.gov, Johnson said.

According to a HHS report released today, 1,253 applications were filed by Tuesday seeking coverage for 2,203 people, however only 53 were counted as completed through selecting an actual health insurance plan.

“We know that’s low,” Johnson said, adding that she expects enrollment to pick up now that the calculator is fixed.

 

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

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