Glitches reported with Alaska's government-run health exchange

Susan Johnson, a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska, on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. She urged patience as glitches were reported with the rollout of the new online health insurance marketplace in Alaska. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

JUNEAU — Officials urged patience Tuesday — and a focus on the bigger picture — as glitches were reported with the rollout of the new online health insurance marketplace in Alaska.

Some users attempting to log on Tuesday morning got an initial message indicating the site was experiencing a lot of visits and urging patience in directing users to the login page.

Tyann Boling, chief operating officer for Enroll Alaska, a broker established to help individuals and families sign up and understand their options, said Tuesday morning that her group wasn’t able to enroll people or look at available policies online. She said her group can enroll people on paper in the meantime.

“We’re very anxious for it to get up and working,” she said.

Officials had been warning of possible website glitches ahead of the large-scale rollout. Tuesday marked the first day of an open enrollment period that runs through March. Alaska was among the states that elected to have the feds set up a marketplace.

The federal health care law requires almost everyone to have health insurance by Jan. 1. Those who select a plan by Dec. 15 can get coverage starting Jan. 1. After the open enrollment period ends, people can get new private insurance for 2014 with a qualifying event such as a job loss, birth or divorce, according to the government website, https://www.healthcare.gov .

Exemptions are available for financial hardships and religious objections, but those who ignore the mandate could face fines.

Susan Johnson, a regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 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, where the new health care law and resources for learning more about insurance enrollment were discussed. “Let us report that. That is the day that today dawns across the county for millions of people.”

Johnson said about 60 percent of the estimated 139,000 uninsured Alaskans under the age of 60 are likely eligible for tax credits to help cover costs.

“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.”

Johnson said this is not the kind of thing that officials urge people to hurry up and get over. She urged people to “enjoy the shopping,” talk over their options and reach out for additional guidance, if needed. She said she expected a surge of interest in November and December.

United Way of Anchorage and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium have received federal grants to act as so-called “navigators” to conduct outreach and help promote the marketplace in Alaska and have already reported interest in learning more.

Enroll Alaska, which saw website traffic spike Monday night, according to Boling, plans to begin opening sites in a number of communities, including Juneau, Anchorage, Wasilla, Sitka, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Fairbanks and the Kenai/Soldotna area.

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