Alaska’s Affordable Care Act enrollment remains low

People have an extra day to sign up for Jan. 1 coverage. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

(Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The federal government released numbers yesterday that give an idea of who is signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

In Alaska, about 3,000 people selected marketplace plans before Dec. 28 and 83 percent qualify for a subsidy to help pay for premiums. But Enroll Alaska has seen a steep drop off in the number of people signing up for insurance in the New Year.

Only three other states have lower enrollment figures than Alaska. Eric Earling is spokesperson for Premera Alaska, one of two insurers offering health plans on the federal marketplace in the state. He says the figure for total enrollment in Alaska is low, but not surprising.

“Unfortunately given the reality of the technical challenges had, enrollment is going to be lower than everybody expected and those numbers reflect that,” Earling said.

Earling says Premera isn’t ready to release its own enrollment figures. Earling says overall, the low numbers can be party attributed to the fact that thousands of Alaskans will be able keep health plans that were supposed to be canceled in 2014. That’s a change President Obama announced in the fall.

Enroll Alaska has signed up more than 900 people in marketplace plans, but the pace of enrollment has slowed considerably. COO Tyann Boling says in the last few weeks of 2013, the company was signing up as many as 70 Alaskans a day for insurance. As soon as January 1st hit, that figure plunged by more than half:

“It was a dramatic decrease and we’re trying to do everything we can to get some momentum going again,” Boling said.

Boling thinks there’s a lot of consumer confusion over enrollment deadlines. Enroll Alaska is renewing their advertising effort to get the word out that people have until March 31st to sign up for insurance to avoid paying a tax penalty.

Boling says the website has only been working well for about six weeks. She thinks the months when it failed had a big negative impact.

“I think the momentum was crushed because of the functionality of I think the people enrolling have always intended to enroll,” Boling said. “And so really our goal and objective is to get out to the people who aren’t aware of this law and truly can benefit from this. I just don’t think people understand there’s a great benefit there for them.”

As Eric Earling, with Premera, puts it, the disastrous launch “significantly altered the equation of what was possible.”

But he says there’s still time to boost enrollment numbers and it’s too early to draw many conclusions from the federal data. The company expected the first year of the Affordable Care Act would be a roller coaster ride and Earling says Premera was ready.

“There were going to be some twists and turns that were unexpected, there were going to be events that happened in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act that couldn’t be predicted and so everything that the entire system has experienced in the last few months is certainly systemic of that,” Earling said.

Across the country, 1.2 million people have selected marketplace plans on The number of enrollments began to spike the last week of November.

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