Broker established to help sign up Alaskans for health insurance scales back


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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A broker established last year with plans of helping tens of thousands of Alaskans sign up for private health insurance has scaled back.

Enroll Alaska had set a target of signing up 40,000 people during the open enrollment period that ran from Oct. 1 through March. They wound up signing up 2,400.

"We just didn't know how hungry people were to get health insurance that was subsidized for the first time," said Joshua Weinstein, a consultant with Northrim Benefits Group who helped launch Enroll Alaska.

He blamed the disappointing total in part to the rocky rollout of the federally run online insurance marketplace. But he also told APRN (http://bit.ly/1kwKMcs) there remains opposition to the federal health care law and confusion about how the subsidies many Alaskans qualify would work. He said insurance companies weren't processing applications smoothly, either.

Enroll Alaska had 30 agents working for it last October. It now has six. The broker did not renew the contract of chief operating officer Tyann Boling, he said.

"We did not achieve our enrollment expectations so accordingly, we've adjusted our staffing to support the business that we did capture," he said.

While Enroll Alaska is smaller in size, Weinstein said he's "very comfortable" with the position the broker is now in and expects to hire new agents for the next open enrollment period that begins in November.

He said the fact that penalties for people without coverage will grow might encourage people to look again at enrollment. The company thinks it can double the number of enrollees in Alaska for next year, he said.

Since the last open enrollment period closed, Enroll Alaska each month has signed up about 50 to 75 people who were eligible for enrollment due to qualifying life events, like moving or changing jobs. That is more than the broker expected.

In all, about 13,000 Alaskans signed up for insurance through the federal marketplace during the last open enrollment period. Weinstein said the federal government estimates that more than 100,000 Alaskans would qualify for subsidies to help pay for insurance.

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