FAIRBANKS — A company trying to sign up Alaskans in the new federal health insurance marketplace told state legislators Tuesday that it had signed up just three people since Oct. 1.
“We have worked across the entire state of Alaska and all the communities in outreach education and enrollment. ... Unfortunately, the marketplace is not functioning,” said Tyann Boling, the chief operating officer of Enroll Alaska, a company that helps people navigate the Healthcare.gov website and in return receives commissions from insurance companies. “We’ve only had the ability to enroll three individuals in the marketplace. We expected at this point to have enrolled close to 2,000.”
The numbers reported by Enroll Alaska and other groups don’t include sign-ups who successfully navigated the website on their own.
Boling spoke to the House Finance Committee panel reviewing the Department of Health and Social Services budget. The committee, which was in Fairbanks on Tuesday, has been holding meetings throughout the state to get a better understanding of the state’s most expensive department.
The state of Alaska, along with a majority of other states, opted to reject federal funding to set up its own individualized marketplaces. Gov. Sean Parnell also has rejected hundreds millions of federal dollars for an expansion of Medicaid covered by the federal health care law.
Some other states that opted to set up their own marketplaces have reported tens of thousands of people successfully signing up for insurance.
Many Republican representatives on the subcommittee agreed with Parnell’s decision to keep the state out of it but quizzed state officials on what they’re doing to help people.
“Because the state has strung us to the federal government — which I’m fine with — we don’t have any idea of how many people who have inquired on this website and decided it’s too costly,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. “As far as the state goes, we’re just kind of throwing our people out there and letting them navigate, if they can’t navigate that’s too bad, if they get fined that’s too bad, that’s our stance?”
Bret Kolb, the director of the Alaska Division of Insurance, said the state’s only option is to direct people to the federal sign-up site.
“What we’re trying to do is help people get to those touch points, whether it’s to the federal government, to the 800 numbers, to the navigators that are available to help them get through the process,” he said. “The Division of Insurance is trying to assist people and answer the questions as best we can, given the information and resources we’ve been given.”
Wilson was unsatisfied, asking whether the state would seek more serious action against the federal government.
“If we’re sending people back to the website that they’re frustrated at, that’s not really helping,” she said. “I’m not saying it’s your fault, but that’s the pretty much the stance of the state. Instead of pushing back on the government and taking care of our own.”
When later asked if the state could set up its own marketplace as an alternative, Kolb said it was unlikely. The state would have to spend money to build and maintain a marketplace for a relatively small number of people, he said.
“We’re trying to figure out what our motivation would be,” he said.
However, Enroll Alaska’s Boling said that once the federal government gets the website into a working condition, she believes her company “will be very successful” in getting people insured.
Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.