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Alaska's ACA enrollment nears 13k

Most applicants able to take advantage of subsidies and financial assistance

Posted: May 7, 2014 - 11:09pm

The number of Alaskans enrolled in health care plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace has surpassed 12,890, according to numbers released in April. The total now sits at more than 8 million nationwide.

“More than 12,890 Alaskans signed up through the Marketplace, demonstrating brisk demand for quality, affordable coverage,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a news release. “Together we are ensuring that health coverage is more accessible than ever before, which is important for families, for businesses and for Alaska’s health and wellbeing.”

Many Alaskans signed up with the help of United Way Navigators.

The group helped complete 622 applications as of April 2, with more than 100 coming from the Southeast region, said United Way of Anchorage project officer Sandy McClintock.

“All told, United Way navigators had direct contact with over 3,350 Alaskan consumers and answered countless questions over the phone,” she said.

The majority of Alaskans signed up during enrollment periods between Oct. 1, 2013 and March 31 of this year, with additional enrollment due to life changes accounted for up to April 19.

The Department of Health and Social Services also reported that Medicaid and CHIP enrollment through the end of March fell by 1,170 individuals, compared to enrollment before Oct. 1, 2013. Alaska opted not to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Of those who enrolled through the marketplace, 88 percent selected a plan with financial assistance.

“The subsidies that were available were surprising to some, and for many it made a huge difference,” McClintock said. “Bottom line, every individual who was able to get coverage, especially those who couldn’t get coverage before for any number of reasons, be it cost or perhaps a pre-existing condition, everyone is a success story for the simple reason they now have health coverage and we know health coverage can lead to better health.”

Tax credits and cost-sharing reductions were available to individuals and families with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level who do not have access to other types of minimum essential coverage. For an individual, that range is between $14,350 and $57,400. For a family of four, that range is between $29,440 and $117,760.

“If you make less than about $11,490 a year as a single person or about $23,550 for a family of four, you may not qualify for lower costs for private insurance based on your income. You may be eligible for Medicaid, even without the expansion, based on your state’s existing rules. But if you aren’t, you won’t qualify for either of the affordability options under the health care law,” according to the web page that addresses states that didn’t expand Medicaid.

The gap exists because the health care law, when passed, assumed expanded Medicaid coverage with the federal government paying all costs of newly eligible individuals for the first three years and no less than 90 percent in future years, but the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled the expansion would be voluntary and up to each state.

Enrollment assistance was available locally with a health care enrollment navigator serving Juneau under the umbrella of United Way of Anchorage. Crystal Bourland organized events during the open enrollment period to encourage people to sign up and to offer help in completing applications.

“Our hope was that we would be able to meet Alaskans where they were and help them if they needed it. Our Navigators, for the most part, did just that — they provided the needed education and assistance consumers sought in order to make a health care decision for themselves and their family. In that we were successful, even given systems or process challenges beyond the control of a Navigator, such as technology issues with the site,” McClintock said.

One daunting challenge for Navigators was reaching out to Alaskans across the nation’s largest state.

“We’re a big state and getting the word out has its challenges,” McClintock said. “The restrictions that accompanied the grant funding limited our options when it came to informing Alaskans about the education and enrollment assistance that was available with United Way Navigators.”

Open enrollment ended March 31, and the next open enrollment period begins Nov. 15 for coverage in 2015.

For those who missed enrollment, waiting until the next open enrollment period may not be necessary. Marriage, divorce or a change in family size are some events that would qualify for a special enrollment period.

Other complicated cases that may qualify for special enrollment include facing a medical condition or natural disaster that didn’t allow for enrollment during the open period, misinformation or misrepresentation from someone assisting with enrollment, enrollment errors, system errors, display errors on, unresolved casework, or if a person is a victim of domestic abuse and was previously unable to enroll. More information is available by calling 1-800-318-2596.

Individuals may enroll in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program at any time of year. And members of federally recognized tribes and Alaska Native shareholders may enroll any time as well.

McClintock advised those seeking insurance through the marketplace to not wait until the last minute to start the process.

“Insurance is complicated — it takes time to learn about networks, deductibles, co-insurance and much more, especially if you’ve never had insurance before or if English is not your primary language,” she said. “Start early. Give yourself time. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance — whether by phone, online or in-person — and get covered.”

Individuals without minimum essential coverage — whether an individual market policy, employer-provided coverage, Medicare, Medicaid CHIP, TRICARE and certain other types of coverage — must pay a fee or have an exemption. The fee is 1 percent of income or $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, whichever is higher, with a family maximum of $285. Fees will be collected with 2014 federal income tax returns, to be filed in 2015 for the majority of people.

For information and assistance locally, contact Crystal Bourland, a navigator through United Way of Anchorage based in Juneau, at 523-1147.

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James Coleman
James Coleman 05/08/14 - 06:22 am
Big Deal

The Obamacare gurus are happily patting themselves on the back but its still a failure. Of course people signed up, threaten them with fines and the IRS they'll obey. 13K signed up, that's about 2% of the population and I imagine the majority are taxpayer subsidized. Keep charging that Chinese credit card.

Art Petersen
Art Petersen 05/08/14 - 08:38 am
Instead of 13K,

the number of those with healthcare in Alaska under the ACA would be about 56,000. But the governor denied the expansion of Medicaid in Alaska for a reason only he understands. Every single other entity (hospitals, medical professionals, the Chamber of Commerce, communities....) encouraged him to accept it for Alaska. Having healthcare and participating in it with check ups and screenings promote wellness and health, and it prevents costly sickness that jacks up the price of healthcare for everyone.

Expanding Medicaid under the ACA will cost Alaska 0.00 dollars for three years and no more than 10% thereafter. It's the law. The governor should change his mind about the ACA expansion. If he doesn't, probably a change of governor will.

James Coleman
James Coleman 05/08/14 - 09:09 am
Not 10%

This is responsibility on part of the Governor. After 3 years AK would be on the hook for the whole cost. Remember the audit that said AK needs to trim $1.5B from spending? Won't happen buying insurance for everyone. I just love how Obama covers all this stuff until he's out of office. The next president is going to have a huge mess on their hands.

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