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Alaska facing deadline with no insurance exchange

Posted: September 2, 2013 - 9:38pm  |  Updated: September 3, 2013 - 12:06am

ANCHORAGE — Federal officials and Alaska nonprofits are scrambling to establish a health insurance marketplace by the Oct. 1 deadline required under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Alaska is among 27 states that have refused to set up marketplaces, also known as exchanges, where the uninsured can shop for coverage. In states opting out of setting up the exchanges, the federal government is stepping in.

In Alaska, United Way and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium are each receiving a $300,000 federal grant to hire “navigators” to help people find their way around the federal health care program, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

“There are people very, very committed to making sure Alaskans have the opportunity to take full advantage of what the law can provide,” said Michelle Brown, president of United Way of Anchorage.

Coverage begins Jan. 1. The first enrollment period extends from Oct. 1 through March 31.

Sue Brogan, vice president for income and health for United Way, said she has received federal authority to begin hiring and training navigators. Two will be based in Anchorage, one in Juneau and one in Fairbanks. Volunteer navigators also will be trained, Brogan said.

Congress provided a pool of money for states to create their own exchanges, said Karen Pollitz with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C., and an expert in the implementation of the health care law by the states. According to Pollitz, Congress assumed states would take the opportunity to localize the law and didn’t leave much money for federally managed marketplaces.

“It’s all stretched thin where the federal government is having to do it for so many states, because they just didn’t think they’d have to,” she said.

Gov. Sean Parnell said he was concerned Alaska would be on the hook to operate the exchange once the federal government’s funding dried up. Parnell said he was unaware that the health care law allows states to collect a portion of premiums to operate the exchanges.

Parnell said Alaskans haven’t been hurt by his decision to forgo a state-operated exchange.

“I think they’re actually more hurt by losing their freedom and being compelled to pay for health insurance,” Parnell said.

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