Alaska’s health insurers call marketplace enrollment figures disappointing

The Obama administration announced yesterday more than 7 million Americans signed up for health insurance on government run marketplaces by Monday’s enrollment deadline.

In Alaska, the final numbers aren’t in yet. The two insurers on the state’s federally run marketplace are reporting they had 7,500 enrollees by mid March.

Jeff Davis knew the health care roll out would be rough. But looking back on the six month enrollment period that began Oct. 1, the President of Premera Alaska says he failed to anticipate just how rough.

“We didn’t expect it to be smooth, but we didn’t expect it to be quite this exciting shall we say,” Davis said.

Part of that excitement was a last minute Obama Administration change that allowed some Premera Alaska members to keep plans that were supposed to be canceled. Davis supported the move, but he says it forced the company to scramble. And then there was the bungled Healthcare.gov roll out in October.  Davis thinks that gave a lot of people a good reason to put off enrolling indefinitely.

“Everyone was waiting for that October 1st date and when it came and went and no one was enrolled, we really lost a lot of momentum,” Davis said.

By mid March, Premera had 4300 new Alaska enrollees, on and off the exchange. Before healthcare.gov launched, the company had conservatively estimated more than double that number – about 10,000 people would sign up. Davis says the numbers are disappointing.

“That’s not what we were hoping for, we were hoping more Alaskans would find a way to get covered, I think we’ll see eventually we’ll end up where we expect it to be, but it’s just not going to happen in ’14.”

The other insurer on Alaska’s marketplace is Oregon based Moda Health. Jason Gootee is the company’s regional manager in the state. As of mid-March, Moda had 5,200 new enrollees in Alaska. He says that number seems low given how many Alaskans are uninsured.

“It’s actually a pretty small number compared to what might be out there, so I think that part of it is a little bit disappointing, but in terms of market share we’ve been able to bring on, I think we’ve been happy with what we’ve gotten.”

Gootee says after the slow start to enrollment, December was a big month. The company, which also insures customers in Oregon and Washington, wasn’t prepared for the enormous spike in enrollments toward the end of the year.

“Just to give you an example as a company, not just in Alaska, on December 30th we took just over 50,000 calls in one day,” Gootee said. “And for us, historically a busy call day would have been about 5,000 calls.”

Gootee says Moda learned a lot of lessons it will apply during the next open enrollment period, which begins November 15th. Until that date, there are other issues to work out. Neither Moda or Premera has received any money from the federal government for the subsidies many customers qualified for. Premera’s Jeff Davis says the company is prepared to cover the subsidy amounts, but hopes the payments will be made soon.

“As far as I know there’s still no mechanism for us to receive subsidies from the federal government… there’s just a lot of work still on the back end that wasn’t done as part of open enrollment that still needs to be completed,” Davis said.

Both companies will have to file their health insurance rates for next year before they have much information on how new customers are using their insurance. Those rates are due at the end of April.

This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

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