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 HealthCare.gov 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 Healthcare.gov 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 HealthCare.gov, 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.