19,000 Alaskans fall in health 'coverage gap' of Obamacare

Katie Moritz | Juneau Empire Kelly Shattuck of local firm Shattuck and Grummett Insurance gives an update on the Affordable Care Act on Thursday at the weekly Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Hangar on the Wharf.

About 19,000 Alaskans, or 4.4 percent of the state’s population, have fallen into a “coverage gap” since the Affordable Care Act was put in place for all U.S. residents, according to a report from local insurance broker Kelly Shattuck.

Shattuck gave an update on the ACA at Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Although there are tax credits and cost sharing scenarios available for many Americans who can’t afford mandatory health insurance, about 32,000 Alaskans don’t qualify for these breaks but still can’t pay for insurance, she said.

These are non-disabled adults without children whose income is more than 100 percent of the federal poverty line, she said. These people are not eligible for Medicaid, tax credits or cost-sharing through the federal health care marketplace. In Alaska, the federal poverty line is about $14,000 in annual income for an individual and $30,000 for a family of four, Shattuck said after her presentation.

About 32,000 Alaskans fall into this gap. However, 13,000 of those are Alaska Natives, she said, who receive care through the federal Indian Health Service. The remaining 19,000 are mostly out of luck: their choices are to purchase insurance at full cost, use public health facilities, rely on charity care from hospitals, pay out-of-pocket for care or go without health care, she said.

Individuals who purchase health insurance through the federal marketplace are eligible for price cuts if their employers do not provide coverage, they’re not eligible for coverage from any other source and their household income falls between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

The federal deadline for signing up for health insurance was Jan. 1, and open enrollment ended at the end of March. Although a lot of things have been in flux with the ACA, Shattuck said, the Jan. 1 date was a hard deadline.

“It’s about the only thing that hasn’t been delayed,” she said.

Anyone who hasn’t enrolled yet will be fined $95 or 1 percent of their annual income, Shattuck said. Health insurance enrollment — both within and outside the federal marketplace — will start again in November for next year.

Shattuck also spoke on the rules for employers when it comes to providing health insurance. The owner of any business that employs more than 49 people and opts not to provide health insurance can be fined $2,000 for each full-time employee that tries to enroll in the marketplace as an individual.

Because those fines are often less costly than actually providing insurance, many companies are opting for the former, Shattuck said. If things keep going on like this, the system won’t last very long, she said.

“We’ll all just be individuals in the individual marketplace,” Shattuck said. “It’s not sustainable.”

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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