JUNEAU — Fifty-three Alaskans signed up for private health insurance during the first month of the online federal marketplace, government figures released Wednesday show.
Alaska is one of 36 states that has relied on the federally run site to provide access to the marketplace, where individuals can browse for insurance to help meet requirements of the federal health care law. The site has been marred by glitches since its launch Oct. 1, and in the first month, less than 27,000 people in those states had selected plans, figures released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed.
Another 79,000 individuals had signed up in states running their own exchanges.
“There is no doubt the level of interest is strong,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a release.
She said enrollment is expected to grow “substantially” over the coming months. The open enrollment period ends March 31. That is also the cutoff date to enroll without risk of a penalty.
The federal health care law requires virtually all Americans to have insurance beginning next year. There are exemptions for financial hardships and religious objections, but those who ignore the mandate will face fines.
U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said the figures released Wednesday show the health care law “is a sinking ship with too many holes to fill.”
He said in a statement that he supports legislation that would let people keep their existing insurance policies if they wanted to do so. He also said he would continue to work to “delay, repeal and replace” the health care law.
Another critic of the law, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called the numbers “a nightmare in spreadsheet form.”
“Alaskans are frustrated and anxious about what is going to happen to them and their families,” she said in a statement. “The responsible thing is to admit the health care law is not ready for prime time and hit the pause button.”
This came the same day that broker Enroll Alaska announced it was resuming enrollments through the marketplace after being assured problems with a subsidy calculation on the site had been corrected. Enroll Alaska — which was created to help individuals enroll and understand their options — announced last month that it was suspending such enrollments until the problems were fixed.
Enroll Alaska’s chief operating officer, Tyann Boling, said Wednesday that the website functions much better than it had. She said the broker, which receives commissions from the insurers offering policies on the Alaska site and reported helping just three people enroll through the site before the suspension, was able to enroll someone, start to finish in 20 minutes, after the site fixes.
Enroll Alaska originally hoped to enroll about 5,000 people by this point, she said. The web glitches have resulted in a slow start, but she said by email that she’s hopeful her group will enroll 20,000 people yet this year.