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As Healthcare.gov reboots, is Alaska enrollment on the rise?

Laurel Andrews
Creative Commons photo courtesy Flickr

Sunday was the White House’s self-imposed deadline to get Healthcare.gov up and running after a tumultuous two months of website failure and frustration during the rollout of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. So how is enrollment faring in Alaska?

In October, Alaskans struggled to sign up for health care on Healthcare.gov -- and errors in the federal subsidy calculation prompted insurance brokerage Enroll Alaska to temporarily stop using the website.

After a month marred by website glitches, the White House announced in November that the website would again be up and running by Dec. 1 for the “vast majority of users,” or 80 percent of people.

Dec. 1, deemed “Vast Majority Sunday” by the Washington Post, was kicked off by a press conference with Jeffrey Zients, a former Obama administration official who is now managing the website repair efforts. He told reporters that the website was “night and day from where it was on Oct. 1.”

Now, progress appears slow but steady for Alaskans. Enroll Alaska began using Healthcare.gov again in mid-November, and as of Nov. 29, the company had enrolled 107 people using Healthcare.gov, said Tyann Boling, chief operator of Enroll Alaska.

The company continues to see steady improvements in the website, Boling said. Agents have been able to enroll both individuals and families with dependents, what Boling referred to as a “more layered situation” that involves a more complex application on the website.

Still, the site has lingering problems, Boling said. The bottom line?

“The capacity is not there,” she said. Healthcare.gov was never built to handle the volume of users who have been logging in at one time, "so sometimes it functions really well and sometimes it crashes,” she said.

In Alaska, two insurance providers are offering insurance on Healthcare.gov, Premera Blue Cross and Moda Health.

Moda said 197 Alaskans had enrolled in medical plans as of Dec. 1, and 57 enrolled in dental plans. Moda Health covers around 11,000 people in Alaska, mostly through employers.

Premera Blue Cross, Alaska’s largest insurance provider, declined to comment on the number of enrollees in Healthcare.gov thus far.

“We hope to see things pick up with the end of the year coming and the site functioning better,” Premera spokeswoman Melanie Coon wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, navigators with United Way have successfully enrolled one person in their office, according to Sandy McClintock, director of marketing with United Way. Many more people have called in with questions, and those folks have successfully enrolled from home, she said.

Website glitches are still evident, McClintock said, and are especially noticeable for those who created an account early on and are now trying to access it again. People signing on for the first time are having more success, she said.

Overall, “the process seems to be moving along,” McClintock said.

Uninsured Alaskans have until March 31, 2014 to sign up for health care for 2014, or face a penalty. Some Alaskans, however, are exempt from the penalty.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter @Laurel_Andrews