Health care broker Enroll Alaska scales back

Enroll Alaska agent Mike Clark's office is located at Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Enroll Alaska is scaling back from 30 agents to six based in Anchorage. (Photo by Heather Bryant/KTOO)

Enroll Alaska is scaling back its business in the state. The division of Northrim Bank launched last year with plans to help tens of thousands Alaskans sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The company ended up with disappointing results and is now rethinking its strategy.

Before October 1st last year, Enroll Alaska was thinking big. The company launched an advertising campaign. It made plans to open kiosks around the state. And it was ready with an “army” of agents who could enroll  6,000 Alaskans each month in new subsidized health insurance plans. Joshua Weinstein is a consultant with Northrim Benefits Group who helped launch Enroll Alaska:

“We just didn’t know how hungry people were to get health insurance that was subsidized for the first time.”

As it turned out- not very hungry. Enroll Alaska’s goal was to sign up 40,000 people during the open enrollment period. Instead, their final count was 2,400. Weinstein attributes the disappointing figure partly to the bungled roll out of Healthcare.gov- the website essentially didn’t function for the first two months. He says several other factors played a role:

“There’s a lot of opposition to the Affordable Care Act, there still is, a lot of confusion about how the tax credits and subsidies work, the insurance companies weren’t smoothly processing the applications, so there was a lot more service than anyone anticipated.”

Last October, Enroll Alaska had 30 agents working for the division. Now, Northrim Benefits Group has restructured, keeping just six agents, based in Anchorage, who will work on both group and individual policies. Weinstein says the company also decided not to renew the contract of COO Tyann Boling, who was instrumental in starting Enroll Alaska:

“We did not achieve our enrollment expectations so accordingly, we’ve adjusted our staffing to support the business that we did capture.”

Weinstein says he’s “very comfortable” with the position Enroll Alaska is in now. He anticipates hiring new agents to meet demand during the next open enrollment period from November 15th to February 15th.

He says the company thinks it can double the number of its enrollees in Alaska for next year:

“The penalties are becoming more substantial for people in 2015 who don’t have health coverage. So what was once 1% or $95 is doubling or more for people who don’t buy insurance. That might encourage people to look at this again.”

Since the 2014 open enrollment period closed in mid April, Weinstein says Enroll Alaska has signed up more new clients than anticipated, about 50 to 75 people each month who have what are considered “qualifying life events,” like changing jobs or moving.

Overall, about 13,000 Alaskans signed up for health insurance on Healthcare.gov during the open enrollment period. Weinstein says the federal government estimates more than 100,000 Alaskans qualify for subsidies to buy insurance.

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

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